July 25th, 2016
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cambridge researchers Hui-Yuan Yeh and Piers Mitchell used microscopy to study preserved faeces on ancient ‘personal hygiene sticks’ (used for wiping away faeces from the anus) in the latrine at what was a large Silk Road relay station on the eastern margins of the Tamrin Basin, a region that contains the Taklamakan desert. The latrine is thought to date from 111 BC (Han Dynasty) and was in use until 109 AD.
They found that eggs from four species of parasitic worm (helminths) were present: roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides), whipworm (Trichuris trichiura), tapeworm (Taenia sp.), and Chinese liver fluke (Clonorchis sinensis).
Chinese liver fluke is a parasitic flatworm that causes abdominal pain, diarrhoea, jaundice and liver cancer. It requires well-watered, marshy areas to complete its life cycle. Xuanquanzhi relay station was located at the eastern end of the arid Tamrin Basin, an area that contains the fearsome Taklamakan Desert. The liver fluke could not have been endemic in this dry region.
In fact, based on the current prevalence of the Chinese liver fluke, its closest endemic area to the latrine’s location in Dunhuang is around 1,500km away, and the species is most common in Guandong Province – some 2,000km from Dunhuang.