Re: Parasites and paleoanthropology

Nick Maclaren (
20 Jul 1996 10:17:48 GMT

In article <>,
Paul Crowley <> wrote:
>In article <4sohbh$>
> "Nick Maclaren" writes:
>> .. a survey of human parasites ALONE would not prove anything,
>This is not true. Let's say it was proved that the human flea
>(assuming it is definitely specific to humans) split off from
>its nearest relative at, say, 2 mya; we'd have good evidence
>that hominids had fixed home bases by that time. ...

So animals without fixed home bases don't have species-specific
exoparasites (of the flea type)? Well, well, well. I learn something
new every day :-)

> ... Let's say
> it was proved that the Guinea worm (dracunculus) speciated at
> 1 mya; we'd have good evidence that before that time hominid
> populations were in permanent residence around the types of
> water holes inhabited by certain species of water snails and
> that they had achieved a certain level of population density.
> This information could point to a definite type of habitat and
> indicate probable diets.

Er, no. What it would demonstrate is that the probabilities of
humans returning to specific water holes (and not necessarily the
same humans) are high enough for a stable state. This does not show
permanent residence.

In fact, the existence of water-borne parasites does not even show
that humans used permanent water-holes. If the parasite can last a
complete dry season in either the human or the dormant phase of the
aquatic host, then it can be transmitted entirely via transient water
holes and streams.

Nick Maclaren,
University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory,
New Museums Site, Pembroke Street, Cambridge CB2 3QG, England.
Tel.: +44 1223 334761 Fax: +44 1223 334679