Ancient Human Parasites in Ethnic Chinese Populations
Whilst archaeological evidence for many aspects of life in ancient China is well studied, there has been much less interest in ancient infectious diseases, such as intestinal parasites in past Chinese populations. Here, we bring together evidence from mummies, ancient latrines, and pelvic soil from burials, dating from the Neolithic Period to the Qing Dynasty, in order to better understand the health of the past inhabitants of China and the diseases endemic in the region. Seven species of intestinal parasite have been identified, namely roundworm, whipworm, Chinese liver fluke, oriental schistosome, pinworm, Taenia sp. tapeworm, and the intestinal fluke Fasciolopsis buski. It was found that in the past, roundworm, whipworm, and Chinese liver fluke appear to have been much more common than the other species. While roundworm and whipworm remained common into the late 20th century, Chinese liver fluke seems to have undergone a marked decline in its prevalence over time. The iconic transport route known as the Silk Road has been shown to have acted as a vector for the transmission of ancient diseases, highlighted by the discovery of Chinese liver fluke in a 2,000 year-old relay station in northwest China, 1,500 km outside its endemic range.