Recent studies of louse ectoparasites from mummies have developed robust data sets that allow a true epidemiological approach to the prehistory of louse parasitism. One epidemiological principle is that the binomial of overdispersion is normally negative, meaning that in a host population, parasites are aggregated in a few individuals. We demonstrate the overdispersion of lice in 3 different prehistoric communities that differ along 3 axes or variables: environmental setting, socioeconomic status, and cultural affiliation. Distinct cultural practices could have been involved in different patterns of louse infestation. Prevalence, intensity, and abundance of infestations exhibit statistically significant differences between the communities. We also find differences in prevalence between subadults and adults that contrasted by cultural affiliation and suggest conditions different from those seen today. We show that overall prevalence was affected primarily by ecological setting, not socioeconomic status nor cultural affiliation. These findings demonstrate that statistical analysis of archaeological data can reveal the states of infestation in past populations with lifestyles not seen in modern people. Our approach paves the way for future comparisons of subpopulations within archaeological communities.

You do not currently have access to this content.