Health Issues of Ancient Egypt

By taking a closer look at more than 3,000 Egyptian mummies, researchers have been able to pinpoint some of the most pressing health issues faced by this ancient culture. In this article, you will find out the average age expectancy during those days and identify the most common problem found amongst the majority of studied mummies.

Thanks to a study involving more than 3,000 Egyptian mummies, we can now formulate a more complete picture about what it was like to live thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt. Using the information found in such studies also allows us to investigate the evolution of the human body, disease, and how we’ve been able to better cope with our environment.

About 18% of the mummies studied showed a history of serious dental problems. The ancient mummies battled periodontal diseases, abscesses, cavities, and worn teeth. It was concluded that the culture was plagued with a variety of dental diseases. Since teeth are known as one of the best parts of the body to offer a high level of preservation, it was much easier to identify and note that dental disorders were prevalent.

Frank Ruhli, head of the Swiss Mummy Project at the University of Zurich, stated that the in-depth details regarding other diseases affecting the ancient Egyptians would not be as strong as the dental analysis. Researchers used CT imaging to pinpoint the kinds of diseases associated with ancient Egyptian life, such as bone disorders, infections and trauma to the body.

The researchers came across degenerative disorders, large numbers of osteoarthritis cases, and mummies who had succumbed to atherosclerosis , a hardening of the arteries. Infectious diseases also attacked a great number of Egyptians, including chronic infectious middle ear disease, tuberculosis, and gangrenous stomatitis , a mostly fatal gangrene of the cheek and gums that affects mostly children.

Other finds included:

·    Seven mummies showing evidence of Plasmodium falciparum , the most malignant form of malaria.
·    10 cases showing symptoms of tumorous lesions with four cases possibly malignant.
·    11 mummies showing evidence of pulmonary diseases, such as pneumonia, emphysema and lung oedema.
·    Pulmonary conditions were linked to a presence of carbon found in the lungs believed to be caused by inhaling the smoke associated with oil lamps or fires.

The research conducted on the mummies came courtesy of a collection of anatomists and paleopathologists belonging to the University of Zurich. The researchers also learned that the average life expectancy of an ancient Egyptian was pretty short. Half of the mummies that went through the detailed analysis died between the ages of 20 and 40.   

To learn more about the mummy analysis, a review of the study was published in the Journal of Comparative Human Biology (HOMO), and featured information collected since 1977, during a time when computed tomography was first applied to the science of researching the lives of ancient Egyptian mummies.