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“Unwanted Guests”: Evidence of Parasitic Infections in Archaeological Mortuary Contexts

Abstract

Parasites have had a significant impact on the course of human history—parasites have caused the deaths of countless individuals, have resulted in the abandonment of settlements, and have even affected the outcome of wars. It is curious, therefore, that archaeologists, even those engaged in dialogues about health, well-being, and sanitation in past populations, have paid relatively little attention to the impact that parasites might have had on those populations. Therefore, it is worthwhile to explore some of the impacts of parasites on relatively recent history, describe the development of the field of parasite studies in archaeology, and outline a variety of laboratory methods that can be used to identify evidence of parasites in archaeological samples. Perhaps once more archaeologists are aware of the importance of parasitological testing of archaeological remains, more informed interpretations of past population health, as it relates to parasitic disease, can be constructed.

Extracto

Los parásitos han tenido un impacto significativo en el curso de la historia humana: los parásitos han causado la muerte de innumerables personas, han provocado el abandono de asentamientos e incluso han afectado los resultados de las guerras. Por lo tanto, es curioso que los arqueólogos, incluso aquellos que participan en diálogos sobre salud, bienestar y saneamiento en poblaciones del pasado, hayan prestado relativamente poca atención al impacto que los parásitos podrían haber tenido en esas poblaciones. Por lo tanto, vale la pena explorar algunos de los impactos de los parásitos en la historia relativamente reciente, describir el desarrollo del área de estudios de parásitos en arqueología y esbozar una variedad de métodos de laboratorio que pueden usarse para identificar evidencia de parásitos en muestras arqueológicas. Quizás cuando más arqueólogos tengan presente la importancia de las pruebas parasitológicas de los restos arqueológicos, se podrán construir interpretaciones más informadas acerca de la salud de las poblaciones en el pasado en lo que respecta a las enfermedades parasitarias.

Résumé

Les parasites ont eu un impact significatif sur le cours de l'histoire humaine : les parasites ont causé la mort de nombreuses personnes, entraîné l'abandon de colonies et même affecté le dénouement de guerres. Il est par conséquent étrange que les archéologues, même ceux ayant engagé un dialogue sur la santé, le bien-être et l'hygiène dans les populations anciennes, aient prêté relativement si peu d'attention à l'impact que les parasites ont pu avoir sur ces populations. Ainsi, il vaut la peine d'explorer certains des impacts des parasites sur une histoire relativement récente, de décrire le développement des études sur les parasites dans l'archéologie, et d'exposer plusieurs méthodes de laboratoire pouvant être utilisées afin d'identifier les traces de parasites dans les échantillons archéologiques. Dans l'éventualité où davantage d'archéologues deviennent conscients de l'importance des tests parasitologiques des restes archéologiques, des interprétations plus éclairées de la santé des populations passées, en ce qu'elle est liée à une maladie parasitaire, pourraient être construites.

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Pye, J.W. “Unwanted Guests”: Evidence of Parasitic Infections in Archaeological Mortuary Contexts. Hist Arch 55, 82–95 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41636-020-00271-3

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Keywords

  • parasites
  • archaeoparasitology
  • population health
  • sanitation
  • laboratory methods