At first thought, it is easy to understand that lice could’ve been a problem that has impacted humans since the beginning of our species. A deeper look into the different cultures lice has impacted and how they combated it is both interesting and educational. Not to mention a great way to step back and reflect on the marvels of modern medicine.
Chimpanzees and Their DNA
Scientists tell us that human DNA is a 98% match to that of our closest animal relative, the ape.
With all of our common physical traits comes a common problem, lice. Roughly 5.5 million years ago two different types of lice were separated and formed different eating habits. One that survived off of the human species, and another that lived off of chimpanzees. Over the centuries many different species of lice have divided off and infect many different mammals and birds in their different varieties. It is interesting to note however that each type of animal is only inflicted with their specific lice. That is why animals do not pose a threat to infecting humans with head lice. Apes to this day gather together in a shrewdness of apes and nitpick one another to remove lice and nits. This important social gathering for apes could have been a common practice among our homo sapiens ancestors as well.
Walk Like An Egyptian
Egyptian gods and goddesses have been revered for centuries as creatures of beauty and great power. We know now that recent archaeological findings prove lice was rampant during Ancient Egyptian time. Mummified corpses left traces of intact lice on the heads of the mummies. Some had over 400 adult lice on their scalps. Egyptian culture and royalty continue to this day to influence design and fashion. One way this is apparent is the way they handled lice infestations. Women, children and most often priests or royalty would shave their entire bodies to prevent lice. They would wear beautiful, elaborate hair pieces or wigs that were symbols of power and wealth.
Lords and Ladies of the Land had Head Lice
The Dark Ages was a time of brutality, coldness and torturous medical practices. Medieval men and women lived in close quarters, shared beds, owned limited pairs of clothing, and some researchers believe cared little for personal hygiene. These practices and living conditions made it a time when lice plagued everyone, from the wealthy royal to the common peasant. Some folklore suggests that lard and oils were used to try and suffocate the lice and eggs. Another fun tale says that people would wear fur vests and cloaks in hopes that the lice would prefer the lush fur and make their way into its warmth. However primeval that may seem, those living with lice every day would likely try anything to be free of it.
Frontiersmen Fought off Lice
Among reports of infectious diseases in hospital wards, soldiers quarters and battlefields, lice also imposed a great amount of discomfort to the American Frontiersmen. Among the artifacts discovered at soldiers forts in Wisconsin were bone-derived lice combs. These small combs, a few inches in length, prove that the people were bothered enough to come up with some desperate solutions.
The 20th Century and Modern Science
When the WW II soldiers were trapped in trenches and fighting for their life, fortunately for them scientists had developed pesticides that were intended to ward off malaria-borne diseases carried by mosquitos. These same treatments proved effective in killing lice and their nits. Today we know that harsh chemicals are not the best approach. Thanks to modern science, over the counter shampoos and chemical treatments, are becoming a thing of the past. Dehydration methods prove much more effective and affordable to use.