Ancient History

1580

BCE

Arteries of Egyptian mummies from 1580 B.C.E. to 525 A.D. have extensive calcification of the arteries, the same nature as we see today, and unlikely to be due to a very heavy meat diet, which was always a luxury in ancient Egypt. Instead, the diet was mostly a course vegetarian one.

ON ARTERIAL LESIONS FOUND IN EGYPTIAN MUMMIES

DISCUSSION OF RESULTS.

Nature of the lesions. There can be no doubt respecting the calcification of the arteries, and that it is of exactly of the game nature as we see at the present day, namely, calcification following on atheroma.

The small patches seen in the arteries are atheromatous, and though the vessels have without doubt been altered by the three thousand years or so which have elapsed since death, nevertheless the lesions are still recognisable by their position and microscopical structure.

The earliest signs of the disease are always seen in or close below the fenestrated membrane,-that is, just in the position where early lesions are seen at the present time. The disease is characteiised by a marked degeneration of the muscular coat and of the endothelium. These diseased patches, discrete at first, fuse together later, and finally form comparatively large areas of degenerated tissue, which may reach the surface and open out into the lumen of the tube. I need not point out how completely this description agrees with that of the same disease as seen at the present time.

I have already mentioned the absence of leucocytes and cellular infiltration, and need not therefore return to it here.

In my opinion, therefore, the old Egyptians suffered as much as we do now from arterial lesions identical with those found in the present time. Moreover, when we consider that few of the arteries examined were quite healthy, it would appear that such lesions were as frequent three thousand years ago as they are to-day.


I do not think we can accuse a very heavy meat diet. Meat is and always has been something of a luxury in Egypt, and although on the tables of offerings of old Egyptians haunches of beef, geese, and ducks are prominent, the vegetable offerings are always present in greater number. The diet then as now was mostly a vegetable one, and often very coarse, as is shown by the worn appearance of the crown of the teeth.


Nevertheless I cannot exclude a high meat diet as a cause with certainty, as the mummies examined were mostly those of priests and priestesses of Deir el-Bahari, who, owing to their high position, undoubtedly lived well. I must add, however, that I have seen advanced arterial disease in young modern Egyptians who ate meat very occasionally. In fact, my experience in Egypt and in the East has not strengthened the theory that meat-eating is a cause of arterial disease.

Finally, strenuous muscular exercise can also be excluded as a cause, aa there is no evidence that ancient Egyptians were greatly addicted to athletic sport, although we know that they liked watching professional acrobats and dancers. I n the ca6e of the priests of Deir el-Bahari, it is very improbable, indeed, that they were in the habit of doing very hard manual work or of taking much muscular exercise.

I cannot therefore at present give any reason why arterial disease should have been so prevalent in ancient Egypt. I think, however, that it is interesting to find that it was common, and that three thousand years ago it represented the same anatomical characters as it does now.


FIG. 1.-Pelvic and arteries of thigh completely calcified (XVIlIth-XXth Dynasty).
Fro. 2.-Completely dcifiedprofundaarteryaftersoakinginglycerine(XXIstDynasty). FIQ. 8.-Partly calcified aorta
(XXVIIth Dynasty).
Fro. 4.-Calcified patches in aorta (XXVIIth Dynasty).
Fio. 5.-Calcified atheromatous ulcer of subclavian artery (XVIIIth-XXth Dynasty). Fro. &-Patch of atheroma
i n anterior tibia1 artery (glycerine). The centre of the patch

is calcified (XXIst Dynasty).
FIG. 7.-Atheroma of brachial artery (glycerin) (XXIst Dynasty).
Fro. &-Unopened ulnar artery, atheromatous patch shining through (glycehne) (XXIst Dynasty). 31

FIG. 9.-Section through almost completely calcified posterior peroneal artery (low power). Van Gieson staining. a,al, n2, Remnants of endothelium and

fenestrated membrane. b, Calcified patches.

Many more are seen.
Same stain. (Leitz, Oc. 1, x &.)

FIG. 10.-Section


FIG. 11.-Section m(Leitz, Oc. 1, x *.)

a,Remains of endothelium.
b, Fenestrated membrane.
c, Muscular coat.
d,f,Membrane coat undergoing degenerntion.
e, Completely degenerated remnants of muscular coat.

atheroniatous patch of n h a r artery. Same stain. (Leitz, (Reference letters the same as in Fig. 11.)


FIG. 12.-Section Oc. 1, x fa.)

through calcified patch of ulnar artery. a,d, Calcified patches.
b, Partially calcified m wular coat. c, Annular muscular fibre.

 through atheromatous patch of anterior tibia1 artery. Same stain through
FIG. 13.-Section at edge of atheromatous patch. Hreniatoxylin stain (Leitz, Oc. 1, XTh.1 a,Leucocytes (1). The atheromatous part on the left stains intensely dark with hamatoxylin.

Cairo, Cairo Governorate, Egypt

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