A team of paleontologists and medical experts from Germany, the United States and Italy discovered that anemia was common in ancient Egyptian babies who were mummified. In their study, it was reported in International Journal of Archeologythe group subjected multiple mummified remains of children from ancient Egypt to computed tomography (CT) scans to study the skeletons.
The research team focused their efforts on children who died before reaching adulthood and who were mummified at that time. Mummification of children allowed their remains to be preserved in ways that were not possible with those who were simply buried. However, the recent study does not allow the removal of the bandages used in the embalming process. Thus, researchers have to use modern machines to examine the bandages to learn more about what’s inside.
In this new effort, the researchers performed full-body CT scans on 21 child mummies (between the ages of 1 and 14) in order to study the entire skeleton. In doing so, they found evidence of pathological enlargement of the cranial vault—the part of the skull that holds the brain—in seven of the children. This expansion is usually associated with anemia.
Anemia generally occurs due to poor diet. It leads to decreased red blood cell production, which means that not enough oxygen can be transported to the brain and other parts of the body including the bones. People with anemia also suffer from other problems as well, such as iron deficiency, bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, infections, and chronic infections due to a weakened immune system. It was not possible to tell from CT scans whether anemia contributed to the infants’ deaths, but the research team suggests that it was, at least, a contributing factor.
The team also found a child who was suffering from thalassemia, in which the body cannot produce hemoglobin, and his tongue was also enlarged. This child lived less than a year, and is almost certainly succumbing to many of the symptoms associated with this disorder.
Stephanie Panzer et al., Anemia in Ancient Egyptian Baby Mummies: Tomography Investigations in European Museums, International Journal of Archeology (2023). DOI: 10.1002/oa.3227
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