Intestinal helminths as a biomolecular complex in archaeological research.
Flammer PG., Smith AL.
Enteric helminths are common parasites in many parts of the world and in the past were much more widespread both geographically and socially. Many enteric helminths are relatively long-lived in the human host, often benign or of low pathogenicity while producing large numbers of environmentally resistant eggs voided in the faeces or found associated with individual remains (skeletons and mummies). The combination of helminth characters offers opportunities to the field of historical pathogen research that are quite different to that of some of the more intensively studied high impact pathogens. Historically, a wealth of studies has employed microscopic techniques to diagnose infection using the morphology of the helminth eggs. More recently, various ancient DNA (aDNA) approaches have been applied in the archaeoparasitological context and these are revolutionizing the field, allowing much more specific diagnosis as well as interrogating the epidemiology of helminths. These advances have enhanced the potential for the field to provide unique information on past populations including using diseases to consider many aspects of life (e.g. sanitation, hygiene, diet, culinary practices and other aspects of society). Here, we consider the impact of helminth archaeoparasitology and more specifically the impact and potential for application of aDNA technologies as a part of the archaeologists' toolkit. This article is part of the theme issue 'Insights into health and disease from ancient biomolecules'.