Prehistoric human faeces reveals parasites mentioned in antiquity

Archaeologists discovered evidence for the parasitic worms described 2500 years ago in the writings of Hippocrates. The evidence was found within samples of faeces from prehistoric burials on the Greek island of Kea.

Eggs of whipworm intestinal parasites (by University of Cincinnati)

Samples of faeces recovered from the surface of pelvic bones of skeletons buried in the Neolithic (4th millennium BC), Bronze Age (2nd millennium BC) and Roman periods (146 BC – 330 AD) were studied by researchers Evilena Anastasiou and Piers Mitchell of the University of Cambridge in cooperation with experts in the archaeology and anthropology of ancient Greece, Anastasia Papathanasiou and Lynne Schepartz. The researchers found eggs from two species of parasitic worm (helminths) – whipworm (Trichuris trichiura), and roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides). Whipworm was present from the Neolithic, and roundworm from the Bronze Age. This evidence identifies some of the species of parasites that infected people in the region. The mention of infections by these parasites in the Hippocratic Corpus includes symptoms of vomiting up worms, diarrhoea, fevers and shivers, heartburn, weakness, and swelling of the abdomen. Hippocrates and his students described many diseases in their medical text, which called these intestinal worms Helmins strongyle, Ascaris, and Helmins plateia. Study leader Piers Mitchell states that they identified Helmins strongyle worm as roundworm, while Ascaris worm may referred to two parasites, pinworm and whipworm.

Auia Irini site on Kea (by University of Cincinnati)

(after University of Cincinnati & EurekAlert!)

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