Archaeoparasitology a new source of reconstruction of migrations of ancient populations: opportunities, results, and prospects  

Slepchenko S.M.


Vestnik arheologii, antropologii i etnografii, 2021, 3 (54)


              page 147162




The resilience of intestinal parasite ova to harsh environmental conditions and possibility of identification of many of them down to genus/species with the aid of conventional visual light microscopy make parasites an important source of information on different aspects of life of ancient populations. Of special interest is the study of the phenomenon of parasitoidism aimed at reconstruction of ancient human migrations. Ectoparasites (the head louse) and a range of intestinal parasites of such groups as the helminths, tapeworms, and trematodes can be used as a marker of contacts and/or migration of people. Finding helminth ova in ancient samples collected in territories outside the endemic pockets can be direct evidence of contacts and/or migrations of the ancient population. An example of reconstruction of such migrations is given by, for instance, finding ova of the ascarids and whipworm on the territories of the Far North, mountainous Altai, deserts of the Central Asia etc. A remarkable example of migrations, according to the archaeoparasitology data, is the use of the helminths as a marker of ancient human migrations, with the example of population of the American continent. It is noteworthy that almost a century old archaeoparasitology data find confirmation in the results of modern paleogenetic studies. In the recent decades, there have been review publications concerned with the finds of ova of various parasitic organisms in archaeological sites, many of which consolidated archaeoparasitology materials dealing with specific intestinal parasites, the impact of the parasites on the human evolution and their (viz., parasites and human) coevolution, and spread of the parasitic diseases as a result of climate changes both in ancient and modern times. All the works, without exception, emphasize the importance of archaeoparasitology data for the deeper understanding of these processes. However, although the first works on the reconstruction of migrations from parasitological data were published back in the beginning of the last century, the research works substantiating this approach and demonstrating its viability appeared only early in this century and elucidated biological pre-requisites for the reconstruction of migrations. Therefore, new broad consolidation of the materials on the reconstruction of migrations from the data of archaeoparasitology is motivated not only by the need of reconsideration of already existing and new data, but also by the need of examination and verification of the archaeoparasitology facts in the context of the genetic data, archaeology, anthropology etc.

Keywords: archeoparasitology, migrations, reconstructions, parasitosis, colonization of America, lice, geohelminths, cestodes.


Funding. The reported study was funded by RFBR, project number 20-19-50118.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Accepted: 27.05.2020

Article is published: 27.08.2021


Slepchenko S.M., Tyumen Scientific Centre of Siberian Branch RAS, Malygina st., 86, Tyumen, 625026, Russian Federation, E-mail:,