Richard III body infected with roundworms, say University of Leicester archaeologists

By Culture24 Reporter | 04 September 2013

Samples from the pelvis of Richard III show that the King was infected with parasitic roundworms in his intestines likely to have been caused by contaminated water or soil, according to experts investigating the King’s body with powerful microscopes.

A photo of a skeleton from an archaeological dig in a pit next to a measuring stick
© University of Leicester
Multiple eggs would have hatched into larvae, migrated through the medieval ruler’s tissues and matured in the lungs before crawling up his airways to be re-swallowed, growing into adult worms of up to a foot long once they were back in the intestines.

“Our results show that Richard was infected with roundworms in his intestines, although no other species of intestinal parasite were present in the samples we studied,” said Dr Piers Mitchell, who led the research at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology.

“We would expect nobles of this period to have eaten meats such as beef, pork, and fish regularly, but there was no evidence for the eggs of the beef, pork, or fish tapeworm.

“Roundworm is spread by the faecal contamination of food by dirty hands, or use of faeces as a crop fertiliser.

“This finding might suggest that his food was cooked thoroughly, which would have prevented the transmission of these parasites.”

Despite being rare in Britain, the spread of roundworm infection globally – where it is thought to affect up to a quarter of the worldwide population – makes it one of the most common afflictions in the world today.

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