‘Royal’ pediculosis in Renaissance Italy: lice in the mummy of the King of Naples Ferdinand II of Aragon (1467-1496)
Gino Fornaciari; Valentina Giuffra; Silvia Marinozzi; Malayka Samantha Picchi; Massimo Masetti
Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz: vol.104 no.4 Rio de Janeiro July (2009)
Pediculosis seems to have afflicted humans since the most ancient times and lice have been found in several ancient human remains. Examination of the head hair and pubic hair of the artificial mummy of Ferdinand II of Aragon (1467-1496), King of Naples, revealed a double infestation with two different species of lice, Pediculus capitis, the head louse, and Pthirus pubis, the pubic louse. The hair samples were also positive for the presence of mercury, probably applied as an anti-pediculosis therapy. This is the first time that these parasites have been found in the hair of a king, demonstrating that even members of the wealthy classes in the Renaissance were subject to louse infestation.
Louse infestation has probably existed in humans since ancient times. The oldest intact head louse egg was found on a hair from an archaeological site in North-Eastern Brazil and dated to 8000 BC (Araujo et al. 2000); the oldest such finding in the Old World is 9,000 years old, from a cave in Israel (Zias & Mumcuoglu 1991). The oldest known pubic lice are from the Roman period in Britain (Kenward 2001) and from a 2,000-year-old South American mummy (Rick et al. 2002). These archaeological findings clearly indicate that lice were distributed worldwide (Mumcuoglu 2008).