Mummies found to have heart disease

By Stefano DiPietrantonio - email

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - It's not often that people from thousands of years ago can shed light on modern man, but it turns out that Egyptian mummies, like the ones at the Cincinnati Museum Center right now, are revealing secrets through new technology.

The Centers For Disease Control claim heart disease is the leading cause of death in America.

Now, new science is being used on some seriously old bodies and showing heart disease is not just a modern problem.

You can't blame fast food for centuries-old troubles. Heart disease showed-up in cat scans of 3,500 year old mummies, as reported by the American Medical Association this week.

"The mummies that they looked at were also people who had wealth, they had money and power so they probably had access to food that was high in fat," said Robert Genheimer, Rieveschl Curator Of Archaeology at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

Cardiologists have listed heart disease as being caused by modern risk factors, such as fast food, smoking, or a lack of exercise.

ButGenheimer says heart problems would have been expected for their age.

"They have things in their arteries, their arteries appear to be clogged but these are older individuals they were looking at," he said.


By older, Genheimer meant a median age around 50 years old. That was the average life span of folks back then.

Then there is the roughly 4-year-old mummy at the Museum Center they call "Umi", which means "life" in Egyptian.

"The very first thing we did was say let's get a cat scan and we did and were absolutely astounded by the results," Genheimer said.

Not only did the scan show all the details of Umi's body, but also revealed a series of amulets that are very important to the afterlife, to protect the mummy's organs.

"We actually found an amulet in our mummy that is for the throat it's a very rare amulet and because the head of Umi had been taken off and probably during mummification process and then put back, this child would have to breathe in the afterlife," said Genheimer. "If there are long-term chronic illnesses they may show up on the skeleton or within that soft tissue but a child just hasn't lived long enough to show that we're fairly certain that the head coming off is post-mortem it happened after death."

What archaeologists can tell is that Umi was healthy when he died. There are no signs of disease or trauma, so the cause of his death remains a mystery.

But the heart disease discovery is something scientists are researching further. Archaeologist Bob Genheimer will show how researchers are using modern technology to find artifacts right here in the tri-state at a free lecture Thursday night, November 19th at 7:30 at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

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