News Flash > Cardiovascular Health

 

The Heart of a Mummy

Reported December 25, 2009


(Ivanhoe Newswire) – Hardening of the arteries has been detected in Egyptian mummies, some as old as 3,500 years, suggesting the factors causing heart attack and stroke are not strictly modern, but afflicted ancient people, too.

"Atherosclerosis is ubiquitous among modern day humans and, despite differences in ancient and modern lifestyles, we found that it was rather common in ancient Egyptians of high socioeconomic status living as much as three millennia ago," University of California, Irvine clinical professor of cardiology and co-principal investigator Dr. Gregory Thomas was quoted as saying. "The findings suggest that we may have to look beyond modern risk factors to fully understand the disease."

The nameplate of the Pharaoh Merenptah (c. 1213-1203 BC) in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities reads that when he died at approximately age 60, he was afflicted with atherosclerosis, arthritis, and dental decay. Intrigued that atherosclerosis may have been widespread among ancient Egyptians, Thomas and a team of U.S. and Egyptian cardiologists, joined by experts in Egyptology and preservation, selected 20 mummies on display and in the basement of the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt, for scanning on a Siemens 6 slice CT scanner during the week of February 8, 2009.

 

 

The mummies underwent whole body scanning with special attention to the cardiovascular system. The researchers found that nine of the 16 mummies who had identifiable arteries or hearts left in their bodies had calcification either clearly seen in the wall of the artery or in the path where the artery should have been. Some mummies had calcification in up to six different arteries.

Using skeletal analysis, the Egyptology and preservationist team was able to estimate the age at death for all the mummies and to determine the names and occupations of the majority. Of the mummies who had died when they were older than 45, seven of eight had atherosclerosis while only two of eight of those who died at an earlier age had calcification.

Atherosclerosis did not spare women, either. Vascular calcifications were observed in both male and female mummies.

The most ancient Egyptian afflicted with atherosclerosis was Lady Rai, who lived to an estimated age of 30 to 40 years around 1530 BC and had been the nursemaid to Queen Ahmose Nefertiri. To put this in context, Lady Rai lived about 300 years before Moses and 200 years prior to King Tutankhamun (Tut).

In those mummies whose identities could be determined, all were of high socioeconomic status, generally serving in the court of the Pharaoh or as priests or priestesses. While the diet of any one mummy could not be determined, eating meat in the form of cattle, ducks and geese was not uncommon during those times. "While we do not know whether atherosclerosis caused the demise of any of the mummies in the study,” said Thomas, “we can confirm that the disease was present in many."

SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), November 18, 2009