BAR 15:06, Nov/Dec 1989
How the Ancients De-Loused Themselves
The lowly louse has been harassing humankind for millennia. In the past few years we have been trying to locate the little critter archaeologically. Not only has our search for the louse itself been successful, but we have in the process even discovered an effective ancient delousing procedure.
Ancient literature is full of references to this little plague. Indeed, the most famous reference to lice in antiquity is quite literally as a plaguethe third plague visited on the Egyptians when pharaoh denied Moses request to let the Israelites go:
[Pharaoh] became stubborn and would not heed them, as the Lord had spoken. Then the Lord said to Moses, Say to Aaron: Hold out your rod and strike the dust of the earth, and it shall turn to lice throughout the land of Egypt. And they did so. Aaron held out his arm with the rod and struck the dust of the earth, and vermin came upon man and beast; all the dust of the earth turned to lice throughout the land of Egypt (Exodus 8:1517 [1113 in Hebrew]).