If you are interested in ancient civilizations, you’ve probably asked youself: did the ancient Greeks had ever intestinal worms, like we have today?
The answer is: categorical yes.
Scientists from the Cambridge University examined Ancient Greek human remains from burials on the island of Kea. That’s how they managed to find evidence that these kinds of parasites existed in the past, which is confirmed by the writings of Hippocrates that were originally written over 2,500 years ago.
The Father of Western Medicine – Hippocrates (460 to 370 BCE) has wrote about a lot of different diseases in the Hippocratic Corpus.
It is true that the medicine that we have today is very different in comparison with the medicine back then, so that’s why the descriptions of what caused the diseases often appear to be incorrect.
But it is important to note that this was the very first time someone attempted to classify different diseases based on symptoms, which means that this is how pathology was invented.
For the researchers in the modern era, it is extremely difficult to match these writings with already known illnesses. But however, some of the symptoms that were described in these writings still appear to be very accurate.
Now, on the topic of worms: Hippocrates has described three types of intestinal parasite and said a few things about their symptoms.
Since there wasn’t any evidence that can explain this, the researchers couldn’t guess which kinds of worms are actually Helmins strongyle, Helmins plateia and Ascaris, as Hippocrates has named them.
The scientists from the University of Cambridge in the UK have examined 25 burials that are dating back to the Neolitic, the Bronze, and the Roman Era.
Or to be more specific, what they did is examined the dirt that could be found on the pelvic bones of the skeletons, made up of the faecal waste that decomposed during the years.
They also tested the soil samples that could be found under the feet and skull of the skeletons in order to check if any parasites belonged to the intestines.
Four of the burials were tested positive for this kinds of parasite eggs: two Roman, one Bronze age and one Neolotic.
“The Helmins strongyle worm in the ancient Greek texts is likely to have referred to roundworm, as found at Kea. The Ascaris worm described in the ancient medical texts may well have referred to two parasites, pinworm and whipworm, with the latter being found at Kea,” said one of the archeologists in Cambridge named Piers Mitchell.
“Until now we only had estimates from historians as to what kinds of parasites were described in the ancient Greek medical texts. Our research confirms some aspects of what the historians thought, but also adds new information that the historians did not expect, such as that whipworm was present.”
Weakness, vomiting (also vomiting worms), tiredness, fever, diarrhea, shivers, swollen abdomen and changes in appetite were just some of the symptoms that were included in the writings of Hippocrates.
So, these findings are representing the earliest archaeological proof that this kinds of intestinal parasites existed in Ancient Greece.
“This research shows how we can bring together archaeology and history to help us better understand the discoveries of key early medical practitioners and scientists,” said the archeologists Mitchell.