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Why mummies? What can we learn about ancient people from well-preserved human remains? Why should we care? Come explore the world of mummies and all their spin-offs (museum exhibits, movies, books....)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mummies, clogged arteries, and child abuse

Recently two good articles have popped up: one on clogged arteries in Egyptian  mummies, and one on using imaging to detect child abuse.

In the first, we read that atherosclerosis is not as uncommon in earlier societies as we thought. Egyptian mummies show the disease, despite consuming a mostly vegetarian diet and not using tobacco. The article points out that we must be missing a risk factor in heart disease--clogged arteries must not be only a result of poor choices in diet but other conditions (such as inflammation) or things we have not yet identified.

The second article points out how medical imaging of ancient bodies can teach us something about the present. The CT scan of a mummy with a damaged head led to a three-dimensional reconstruction that produced insights on modern deaths due to child abuse. As one of the medical team pointed out, it was helpful that the mummy experiment was performed on a long-dead body so that high dose X-rays could be used. Similarly, in our recent CT scan of the University of Illinois Egyptian mummy, we used more radiation than a living patient could tolerate. Result: gorgeous, high definition images that show more damage to our mummy's skull than before. However, we don't know whether the damage occurred before or after death...lots more work ahead.

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