Effective disposal of human waste undoubtedly was instru mental to the maintenance of public health in pre-modern

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Effective disposal of human waste undoubtedly was instru-

mental to the maintenance of public health in pre-modern 

towns and cities. Archaeologists have shown how in the Eng-

lish city of York, structures such as stone-built sewers were in-

tegral to that function [1]. Presumably, effective night-soil dis-

posal also was a top priority for contemporaneous East Asian 

urban dwellers [2,3]. Whereas ancient-parasite-egg contamina-

tion of soil samples taken from sewer- or toilet-like structures 

might be the effect of some sort of simple diffusion from out-

side areas, it is actually more probable that those structures 

had in fact been cesspits or toilets.

In fact, the remnants of some East Asian cesspits already in-

vestigated have been confirmed, by the presence of helminth 

eggs in soil samples, as having been used as human-waste res-

ervoirs [4]. In East Asian agrarian societies, fertilizer in the 

form of night soils periodically carted away from urban sites to 

surrounding farms was widely used [2-4]. In the case of Korea 

though, there are very few reports on historical structures that 

could be conjectured to have seen use as toilets or cesspits. 

This makes information on the sanitary status of pre-modern 

Korean cities particularly difficult to obtain.

Finally however, in 2004, Korean researchers located pre-

sumptive toilet structures amid the royal palace ruins of the 

ancient Baekje Kingdom (18 BCE-660 CE) (the Wanggung-ri 

site), from which structures they obtained soil samples found 

to contain a significant number of ancient helminth eggs (Fig. 

1) [5]. This discovery has served to intensify the academic con-

troversy surrounding the identification of toilets and cesspits 

and their probable uses in historical Korean towns and cities. 

In any case, it is certain that structures confirmed to have been 

cesspits and toilets undoubtedly will prove, and are proving to 

be, ideal resources for paleoparasitological studies [6]. In this 

light, it is expected that our current cases also will be meaning-

ful to Korean paleoparasitologists and their investigations. 

In a recent archaeological study on Buyeo, the capital of the 

ancient Baekje Kingdom, we found candidate cesspit and toi-

let ruins that yielded many soil-transmitted helminth eggs. We 

believe that our investigation likely will prove to be signifi-

cantly revelatory on the use and maintenance of toilets and 

cesspits in ancient Korean towns or cities. On that basis, we 

ISSN (Print)  0023-4001

ISSN (Online)  1738-0006

Korean J Parasitol Vol. 52, No. 5: 569-573, October 2014  




Received 9 January 2014, revised 14 July 2014, accepted 16 August 2014.

*Corresponding author (bbbenji@naver.com)

© 2014, Korean Society for Parasitology and Tropical Medicine

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons 

Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0) 

which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any 

medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

V-shaped Pits in Regions of Ancient Baekje Kingdom 

Paleoparasitologically Confirmed as Likely Human-Waste 


Dong Hoon Shin


, Sang-Yuck Shim


, Myeung Ju Kim


, Chang Seok Oh


, Mi-Hyun Lee


, Suk Bae Jung


Geon Il Lee


, Jong-Yil Chai


, Min Seo




Bioanthropology and Paleopathology Lab, Institute of Forensic Science, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul 110-799, Korea; 


Buyeo Cultural Heritage Center, Buyeo-gun, Chungcheongnam-do 323-802, Korea; 


Department of Anatomy, Dankook University, Cheonan 

330-715, Korea; 


Korea National University of Cultural Heritage, Buyeo-gun, Chungcheongnam-do 323-812, Korea; 


Department of Parasitology 

and Tropical Medicine, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul 110-799, Korea; 


Department of Parasitology and Research Center for 

Mummy, Dankook University, Cheonan 330-715, Korea


 In a paleo-parasitological analysis of soil samples obtained from V-shaped pits dating to the ancient Baekje pe-

riod in Korean history, we discovered Ascaris lumbricoides, Trichuris trichiura, and Clonorchis sinensis eggs. In light of the 

samples’ seriously contaminated state, the V-shaped pits might have served as toilets, cesspits, or dung heaps. For a 

long period of time, researchers scouring archaeological sites in Korea have had difficulties locating such structures. In 

this context then, the present report is unique because similar kind of the ancient ruins must become an ideal resource for 

successful sampling in our forthcoming paleoparasitological studies. 

Key words:

 Ascaris lumbricoides, Trichuris trichiura, Clonorchis sinensis, helminth egg, paleoparasitology, Baekje Kingdom, V-shaped pit 


  Korean J Parasitol Vol. 52, No. 5: 569-573, October 2014

will report herewith. 

The soil samples (n

=57) examined in this paleoparasito-

logical study were collected from geological strata at archaeo-

logical sites (Gua-ri 319 and Gatap-ri, Dusireoggol remains) in 

Buyeo, the capital of the ancient Baekje Kingdom (Fig. 1). The 

strata were dated to the Sabi period (6th-7th century CE). At 

this time, Gua-ri 319 was centrally located in a residential area 

of Buyeo marked by puddles and ditches. Owing to the low 

and moist topography there, many wooden relics could be ex-

cavated. At Gatap-ri, the Dusireoggol remains, remnants of 

residential areas, roads, and water-catchment facilities were ex-

cavated (Fig. 2). The number of eggs per g of feces (EPG) was 

calculated by multiplying 10 times to the average number of 

eggs counted in soil samples considering that 10 g of soils were 

dissolved in 20 ml of 0.5% trisodium phosphate solution per 

each sample. An overall data summary is provided in Table 1. 

At Gua-ri 319, we collected samples (n

=56) at 5 different 

points, some of which were inside of a V-shaped pit. At Gatap-

ri, only 1 sample was obtained from a V-shaped pit. The sam-

ples were taken using conical tubes (Falcon Plastics, Los Ange-

les, California, USA) driven into the soil strata. Surface-soil 

samples for use as negative controls also were taken. 

Back at our laboratory, a contamination-minimization pro-

tocol entailing the wearing sterilized gloves, head caps, and 

masks was followed. The samples were re-hydrated in 0.5% 

trisodium phosphate solution [7,8] and observed in 10 µl 

quantities 20 times (total per sample: 200 µl) under light-mi-

croscopy (Olympus, Tokyo, Japan). Egg-size measurements 

were taken from 10 eggs, and the number of helminth eggs per 



Fig. 1.

 (A) Ancient Korean kingdoms (Goguryo, Silla, and Baekje). 

(B) Magnified image of green rectangle area. a, Gua-ri; b, Gatap-

ri. In both sites of ‘a’ and ‘b’, the toilets or cesspits could be iden-

tified by paleoparasitological examinations. 

Fig. 2.

 (A) A photograph of Gua-ri 319 remains. Helminth eggs 

were recovered from the construct XII (arrow). (B) An aerial photo-

graph on the Dusireoggol remains, Gatap-ri. BD, building; R, resi-

dential area; W, water collecting facility; RD, road. The helminth 

eggs were recovered from the construct suspected as the toilet 





Shin et al.: V-shaped pits as likely human-waste reservoirs in Baekje Kingdom   


gram (EPG) was estimated. Since 10 g of soil was dissolved in 

20 ml of 0.5% trisodium phosphate solution per sample, the 

EPG was calculated by dividing the average number of eggs 

counted in each sample by 10. 

Among the Gua-ri 319 samples, eggs were found only in 

those taken from the V-shaped pit (area XII; no eggs were 

found in areas XI, XVI, V, or IX). Their morphologies and sizes, 

typical of Ascaris lumbricoidesTrichuris trichiura, and Clonorchis 

sinensis, respectively, identified them as such. Significantly, the 

egg-bearing samples representing the Gatap-ri site, in the same 

Buyeo area, also were obtained from a V-shaped pit, and the 

species were the same; A. lumbricoidesT. trichiura, and C. sinen-

sis (Fig. 3). The average egg dimensions and EPG for each site


samples are summarized in Table 2. 

A previous series of paleoparasitological studies showed 

how historical high-population-density towns and cities in 

East Asia removed human waste. For each spatial and tempo-

ral span of historical development, the pattern of night-soil re-

moval appeared to differ [2,3,5]. In another study, paleopara-

sitologists investigating the Neolithic Jomon period in Japan 

Table 1.

 V-shaped pit examined by paleoparasitological tech-



  Excavated by


  Area in sites 


of Samples


Buyeo Cultural 


XII (V-shaped pit)



Heritage Center









Gatap-ri Korea National


V-shaped pit


   University of 

   Cultural Heritage



Fig. 3.

 Helminth egg discovery in the samples from Gua-ri (A) and Gatap-ri (B) sites in Buyeo. (A) Gua-ri site, the construct XII. V-shaped 

pit could be identified. Sampling points are marked by dots. In every sample examined, Ascaris, Trichuris, or Clonorchis eggs were dis-

covered. (B) In Gatap-ri site, V-shaped pit was also discovered. The sampling point is marked by red dot. We also discovered Ascaris, 

Trichuris, and Clonorchis eggs. Scale bars in each egg plate= 20 µm. 




  Korean J Parasitol Vol. 52, No. 5: 569-573, October 2014

found many human coprolites in a shell midden, indicating 

that those pre-agrarian people used that site and others like it 

as toilets, dung heaps, or night-soil reservoirs [4]. In time 

though, the use of toilets, even flushing toilets, came to pre-

dominate in East Asia as in other areas of the ancient civilized 

world [9,10], as confirmed by archaeological investigations [4]. 

Besides flushing toilets, a tradition of cesspit toilets was also 

developed in East Asia. Cesspit toilets served farmers as reser-

voirs for the night soils they commonly utilized as a fertilizer. 

Once the cesspits became full, their contents were carried away 

to nearby farmlands. In fact, the use of cesspit toilets in a tradi-

tional Japanese society has been verified by archaeological in-

vestigations [4].

Meanwhile, similar reports on human-waste reservoirs in 

Korea have been few. However, in 2004, as noted above, Kore-

an researchers finally found toilet-like structures at the Wang-

gung-ri site, the location of the ruins of the Baekje Kingdom


Royal Palace. One such presumptive toilet was a 10.8 m 


×1.8 m (width)×3.4 m (depth) pit. Also evident, sig-

nificantly, was a sewage canal connecting the toilets to the 

Royal Palace perimeter grounds [5]. Parasitological examina-

tions of sediments sampled from those structures, in this semi-

nal Korean paleoparasitological investigations, revealed many 

AscarisTrichuris, and Clonorchis eggs. 

In much the same way, the current study also could prove to 

be very meaningful to concerned researchers. We discovered 

many of the same species (AscarisTrichuris, and Clonorchis) of 

helminth eggs in soil samples obtained from the V-shaped pits 

unearthed at the Gua-ri and Gatap-ri sites in Buyeo. Unfortu-

nately, however, final determination of their exact purpose 

must remain unconfirmed for now, pending the accumulation 

of more information, historical and otherwise, on ancient Ko-

rean towns and cities. Historical studies from other countries, 

however, are suggestive. In both ancient Rome and medieval 

London, for example, there were a number of latrines, cesspits, 

dung heaps and gutters wherein human waste was accumulat-

ed [11]. Likewise, it is entirely possible that the V-shaped pits 

investigated in the present study were used as cesspits, reser-

voirs, or dung heaps for the night soils of the Baekje people. 

We note that even in this politico-cultural center of that an-

cient Korean kingdom, there might well have been many such 


Our study established the presence of ancient helminth eggs 

(A. lumbricoidesT. trichiura, and C. sinensis) in soil samples ob-

tained from V-shaped pits in Buyeo, the capital of the ancient 

Baekje Kingdom. Our overall results indicate that these pits 

might have been used as human-waste reservoirs. Whereas this 

is indeed a significant finding, we must also admit that the 

number of cesspits or toilets reported thus far for historical 

Korean towns or cities remains very small. Identifying and 

studying additional archaeological structures that once func-

tioned as toilets or cesspits in historical Korean towns and cit-

ies, particularly those representing a variety of temporal and 

spatial ranges undoubtedly will facilitate the locating and col-

lecting of ideal paleoparasitological samples.


This research was supported by Basic Science Research Pro-

gram through the National Research Foundation of Korea 

(NRF) funded by the Ministry of Education (no. 2013R1A1A 

2009688). SYS and MHL worked for Guari-319 site; GIL and 

SBJ worked for Gatap-ri as archaeologists. MJK and CSO 

worked for sampling in the fields; MS, JYC and DHS did para-

sitological examinations and paper writing. 


We have no conflict of interest related to this work.


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land. World Archaeol 1989; 21: 244-264. 

2. Ki HC, Bae JH, Shin DH. Historical study on factors inducing 

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3. Kim MJ, Ki HC, Kim S, Chai JY, Seo M, Oh CS. Shin DH. Para-

Table 2.

 Informations on ancient parasite positive samples 


   Discovered eggs        Average size (µm)




Gua-ri 319 Ascaris lumbricoides 61.4 (53-73)× 47.5 (45-50)


Trichuris trichiura

51.3 (48-55)× 25.6 (25-28)


Clonorchis sinensis

28.9× 15.2



Gatap-ri 90 Ascaris lumbricoides 73.4 (64-79)× 51.2 (47-60) 130

Trichuris trichiura

55.0 (52-55)× 28.2 (27-30)


Clonorchis sinensis

29.7 (29.7)× 16.1 (15-17)



The average size was calculated on 10 eggs so far as circumstances 



EPG was calculated by multiplying 10 times to the average number of 

eggs counted in soil samples considering that 10 g of soils were dis-

solved in 20 ml of 0.5% trisodium phosphate solution per each sample.


Only 1 egg of C. sinensis was recovered from this sample.


Shin et al.: V-shaped pits as likely human-waste reservoirs in Baekje Kingdom   


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GH, Hong DW, Park HU, Shin DH. The influence of differential 

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rolites. New Scientist 1960; 8: 35-40.

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liams-Blangero S, Anderson TJ. Disentangling hybridization and 

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Proc Biol Sci 2007; 274: 2669-2677. 

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