Date of this Version
Published in International Journal of Paleopathology 7 (December 2014), pp. 83–87; doi: 10.1016/j.ijpp.2014.08.001
In the present study, the abdominal contents of 10 mummies from beneath the Dominican Church of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius, Lithuania, were examined for the presence of helminth parasites using standard archaeoparasitological techniques. Of the mummies examined, only one individual presented with evidence of parasitism. This individual was infected with both Trichuris trichiura and Ascaris lumbricoides (5,222 parasite eggs/gram). The conditions of many of the T. trichiura eggs suggest that a fortuitously embedded female whipworm decomposed within the individual’s gut to release the eggs, as opposed to the eggs actually being passed by the adult helminth. This study highlights a taphonomic issue unique to mummies by demonstrating the differential preservation of parasite eggs existing in various stages of development. Whenever one is not dealing with parasite eggs that have already been passed by the host, as is the case when analyzing intestinal tissues, one must understand that some types of parasite eggs may not be fully formed. It is imperative, as demonstrated by our findings, that researchers have the knowledge to recognize under-developed intestinal helminth eggs in addition to fully formed intestinal helminth eggs from mummy source materials. Together, these findings demonstrate the persistence of these helminth parasites in Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries and represent the first archaeoparasitological evidence from mummies in Vilnius, Lithuania.