Atherosclerosis in Ancient Egyptian Mummies: The Horus Study

Study Questions:

Is there evidence that ancient Egyptians had atherosclerosis?


Whole body, multislice computed tomography (CT) scanning was performed on 52 ancient Egyptian mummies from the Middle Kingdom to the Greco-Roman period to identify cardiovascular structures and arterial calcifications. Demographic data were obtained from historical and museum records. Age at the time of death was estimated from the CT skeletal evaluation.


Forty-four of 52 mummies had identifiable cardiovascular (CV) structures, and 20 of these had either definite atherosclerosis (defined as calcification within the wall of an identifiable artery, n = 12) or probable atherosclerosis (defined as calcifications along the expected course of an artery, n = 8). Calcifications were found in the aorta as well as the coronary, carotid, iliac, femoral, and peripheral leg arteries. The 20 mummies with definite or probable atherosclerosis were older at time of death (mean age 45.1 ± 9.2 years) than the mummies with CV tissue, but no atherosclerosis (mean age 34.5 ± 11.8 years, p < 0.002). Two mummies had evidence of severe arterial atherosclerosis, with calcifications in virtually every arterial bed. Definite coronary atherosclerosis was present in two mummies, including a princess who lived between 1550 and 1580 BCE. This finding represents the earliest documentation of coronary atherosclerosis in a human. Definite or probable atherosclerosis was present in mummies who lived during virtually every era of ancient Egypt represented in this study, a time span of >2,000 years.


The authors concluded that atherosclerosis is commonplace in mummified ancient Egyptians.


For a contemporary comparison: Using cadaver CT, in men and women ages 50-60 years, vascular calcification was present in 92% of the men and 72% of the women, and present in two or more vascular beds in 80% of the men and 62% of the women. It is interesting that atherosclerosis was less common in clergy than in nonclergy (p < 0.012) mummies. The authors found an ancient Egyptian papyrus for physicians that comments: ‘If thou examinist a man for illness in his cardia, and he has pains in his arms, in his breasts, and on 1 side of his is death threatening him.’

Clinical Topics: Invasive Cardiovascular Angiography and Intervention, Noninvasive Imaging, Interventions and Imaging, Computed Tomography, Nuclear Imaging

Keywords: Atherosclerosis, Cadaver, Egypt, Documentation, Multidetector Computed Tomography, Mummies

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