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Tue, Sep 01
Mummies know best
In 2008, Greg Thomas, a cardiologist from California, was in Cairo for work. While there, he visited the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities with another cardiologist, Adel Allam of Al Azhar University in Cairo. They came across the mummy of King Merneptah, a pharaoh who lived 3,200 years ago. The description on Merneptah’s case said he had suffered from atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque on artery walls. Both men were sure this must be wrong. How could an ancient Egyptian have had heart disease, when most of the risk factors for the disease – obesity, unhealthy diet, smoking and lack of exercise – did not then exist? But could they prove it?
Thomas, a professor at the University of California, Irvine and Allam discussed how they could find out more about Merneptah’s arteries. They theorised that any arterial plaques might still be visible on a CT scan, a computerised x-ray technology that produces 3D images. Plaques contain calcium, which degrades slowly – a key reason that bones endure for so long.