There were no reports about parasites in mummies found in Italy, until few years ago. So far, the only described parasite in Italian mummies has been obtained analysing samples from the neolithic iceman “Ötzi”, found in Tyrol in 1991. In the colon of this glacier mummy the presence of Trichuris trichiura eggs was shown (Aspöck et al, 1999 Helminthologia, 36: 139-145), suggesting that this human helminth is a very old one.
Since some years our group is devoted to the study of ancient parasites in mummies.
We report here two new cases, recently observed in Italy.
Narni mummy (Ptolemaic age, II-I century B.C.)
Narni mummy is an Egyptian mummy preserved in the town-hall of Narni (Umbria, Central Italy) where, at the beginning of the last century it was brought by the Italian collector Edoardo Martinori.
It belongs to a young female who lived in Egypt between the II and I century B.C. Autopsy revealed a “package” of linen bandages surrounding a hollow muscular organ, 9x6x3 cm in size, with longitudinal stripes similar to thin muscle bundles of the gastric walls.
Sections from a fragment of this organ, rehydrated with the Sandison method were stained (Haematoxilin-Eosin, van Gieson, PAS) and observed at light microscope. This allowed to find, inside the muscle layer, an oval structure, 6×4 mm in size, surrounded by a capsule 80 μm thick, of bumpy aspect, with externally protruding digitations. In close proximity with this layer a roundish structure was found, about 150 μm in size, with a space inside containing several structures elongated and folded, one of which characterized by small bumps. This structure was easily identifiable as the invaginated portion of a Cysticercus cellulosae, the larval stage of the cestode parasite Taenia solium.
To confirm these morphological observations, we performed an immunohistochemical analysis, using a pool of sera from neurocysticercosis patients, specific for Taenia solium, provided by Dr. J. Noh (CDC, Chamblee, GA, U.S.A.). Observation on laser confocal microscopy, showed the cystic wall completely labelled by the specific serum. Labeling was totally absent in sections incubated with control mouse serum.
This is the first case of cysticercosis described in an Egyptian mummy.
This important finding could contribute to solve the discussed relationship of the ancient Egyptian civilization with the swine, of which T. solium is a typical parasite. The results of this study were recently published (Bruschi F., Masetti M., Locci M.T., Ciranni R., Fornaciari G. 2006.Cysticercosis in an Egyptian mummy of the late Ptolemaic period. Am J Trop Med Hyg 74: 598-599).
Renaissance mummy from Naples.
The autopsy of a Renaissance natural mummy (XVI century), found in the Basilica of S. Domenico Maggiore in Naples and belonging to a young adult male, allowed an accurate study of the colon.
Histological sections of colon feces (Haematoxilin-Eosin, van Gieson) revealed some objects which, for size (52 ±2 μm x 23±2 μm) and morphological aspects (thin brown shell with typical barrel shape, elongated and with each of the two poles showing an unstained prominent structure similar to a plug) were identified as eggs of the human nematode Trichuris trichiura. The content appeared to be unicellular.
On sections of colon feces we performed an immunohistochemical study, using a mouse hyperimmune serum specific for Trichuris muris (kindly provided by Prof. R.K. Grencis of the University of Manchester), a species widely cross-reacting with the human species T. trichiura.
By using a laser confocal microscope, which permits the observation of the tissue sample on different focal planes, it was possible to observe a labeling of the egg surface as well as of internal structures. Labeling was totally absent in sections incubated with control mouse serum.
To our knowledge, this is the first observation of T. trichiura eggs in ancient Italian materials, apart from the above cited Neolithic mummy. This shows that also during the Renaissance the hygienic rules were scarce. The results of this study were presented at the VI World Congress on Mummy Studies (Masetti M., Bruschi F., Locci M.T., Johnson K., Pangoli D., Fornaciari G., Identification of Trichurius trichiura eggs in a 16th century Italian mummy, VI World Congress on Mummy Studies, vol. 1, pp. 269-269, Teguise – Lanzarote, Canarian Isles, Spain 2007).
In conclusion, the two cases here reported strongly support that the study of palaeoparasitology can provide information about the life-style of ancient populations. Paleoparasitology Group
M. Masetti 2, G. Fornaciari3, F. Bruschi 1
1Dipartimento di Patologia Sperimentale, B.M.I.E., 2Dipartimento di Biologia, 3Dipartimento di Oncologia e dei Trapianti, Sezione di Storia della Medicina e Paleopatologia, Università di Pisa, Pisa, Italy