Di Gino Fornaciari, Raffaele Gaeta

Paleopathology is the discipline that studies ancient diseases through the use of human skeletal or mummified remains. For these reasons it differs from the history of medicine, which debate on past medical theories, therapies and diseases by historical and literary sources. The paleopathology therefore is strictly linked to the application of traditional medicine methods but enriched and supported by other subjects like history, anthropology and archeology.

An important branch of this discipline is the paleoparasitology, whose studies can be useful from a medical perspective and to understand other past events of human evolution, including conditions of hygiene, sanitation and nutritional adequacy. A central role is certainly played by the study of the helminths, in fact evidences of human ancient parasitism are largely recorded around the world, from prehistory to present age. The most important sources for the study of paleoparasitology are the coprolites, i.e. desiccated or mineralized feces, and the latrine soils, that can be recovered from archaeological layers or directly from mummified bodies. The recovery and analysis of these materials encourages an increasing cooperation among archaeologists, paleopathologists, and paleoparasitologists. To rehydrate desiccated coprolites, a trisodium phosphate solution is used, while different techniques are applied for the detection of parasites, like modified pollen analysis technique, detection of antigen in mummies and ancient DNA techniques.

The paleoparasitology is not only a science of the past, but a useful discipline for the future, because with the understanding of parasite evolution, it is possible better comprehend modern diseases (Ewald, 1996).

Full-text: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/272237164_Paleoparasitology_of_Helminths