Ancient parasite eggs were recovered from environmental samples collected at a Viking-age settlement in Viborg, Denmark, dated 1018–1030 A.D. Morphological examination identified Ascaris sp., Trichuris sp., and Fasciola sp. eggs, but size and shape did not allow species identification. By carefully selecting genetic markers, PCR amplification and sequencing of ancient DNA (aDNA) isolates resulted in identification of: the human whipworm, Trichuris trichiura, using SSUrRNA sequence homology; Ascaris sp. with 100% homology to cox1 haplotype 07; and Fasciola hepatica using ITS1 sequence homology. The identification of T. trichiura eggs indicates that human fecal material is present and, hence, that the Ascaris sp. haplotype 07 was most likely a human variant in Viking-age Denmark. The location of the F. hepatica finding suggests that sheep or cattle are the most likely hosts. Further, we sequenced the Ascaris sp. 18S rRNA gene in recent isolates from humans and pigs of global distribution and show that this is not a suited marker for species-specific identification. Finally, we discuss ancient parasitism in Denmark and the implementation of aDNA analysis methods in paleoparasitological studies. We argue that when employing species-specific identification, soil samples offer excellent opportunities for studies of human parasite infections and of human and animal interactions of the past.
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Vol. 101 • No. 1