Science briefs: King Richard III showed signs of roundworm infection

  • September 7, 2013 - 4:04 PM

King Richard III may have suffered from a parasite as nasty as his reputation. The remains of the medieval monarch — villainized by Shakespeare as a tyrant who killed his nephews in order to seize the throne — show signs of roundworm infection, scientists say.

Archaeologists have undertaken careful analysis of Richard III’s remains since excavating them from a parking lot in the English town of Leicester in 2012. They’ve discovered several roundworm eggs in the soil around his pelvis, suggesting that the parasite lived in the king’s intestines.

Roundworms infect humans when they ingest food or water contaminated with fecal matter containing their eggs. The eggs hatch into larvae, which migrate to the lungs, where they mature. They then crawl up the airways to the throat to be swallowed back into the intestines, where they can grow into adults around a foot long. The symptoms of roundworm infection are often mild but can lead to malnutrition in severe cases. It spreads quickly in poor sanitary conditions, such as those in medieval Europe.

Dr. Piers Mitchell, a biological anthropologist at the University of Leicester who helped unearth Richard’s skeleton last year, said, “ “It was really exciting to discover that.” The discovery was reported in the journal Lancet.

Los Angeles Times

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