Ancient History

945

BCE

Egyptians describe coronary ischemia: "if thou examinest a man for illness in his cardia and he has pains in his arms, and in his breast and in one side of his cardio... it is death threatening him."

Cardiology in Ancient Egypt by Eugene V. Boisaubin, MD

The classic pattern of cardiac pain--radiation to the left arm--was so well known that the ancient Egyptians and Copts even identified the left ring finger as the "heart" finger.


Altogether, ancient Egyptians were aware of a variety of abnormal cardiac conditions, particularly of angina pectoris and sudden death, arrhythmia, aneurysm, congestive heart failure, and venous insufficiency. Numerous remedies for afflicitions of the heart are found throughout the Ebers payrus. 

There were a range of them using different foods, some even including carbohydrates like dates or honey and dough, but interesting, there is another combination of "fat flesh, incense, garlic, and writing fluid".


Extensive histologic analysis of mummies began, however; well before the development of the scanning electron microscope. In 1912, Shattock' made sections of the calcified aorta of Pharaoh Merneptah; and the work of Sir Marc Armand Rufer, published posthumously in 1921, is our most valuable early source of information about vascular disease in ancient Egyptians. Ruffer was able to study a relatively large number of tissue specimens from mummies, mainly from New Kingdom (1600-1100 BC) burials, but covering a wide period of time. In a mummy of the 28th to 30th Dynasty (404-343 BC), he observed atheromas in the common carotids and calcific atheromas in the left subclavian, common iliac, and more peripheral arteries. Ruffer concluded from the state of the costal cartilage that this mummy was not that of an old person. A mummy of a man of the Greek period (ca. 300 to 30 BC), who died at not over 50 years of age, showed atheromas of the aorta and brachial arteries. Since the discoveries of Rufer, numerous other mummies, whose ages at death ranged from the 4th to the 8th decade, have shown similar vascular changes (Fig.4).


In 1931, Long described a female mummy of the 21st Dynasty (1070-945 BC), found at Deir-el- Bahari-that of the lady Teye, who died at about 50 years of age. The heart showed calcification of one mitral cusp, and thickening and calcification of the coronary arteries. The myocardium is said to have had patchy fibrosis, and the aorta "nodular arteriosclerosis." The renal capsule was thickened, many of the glomeruli were fibrosed, and the medium-sized renal vessels were sclerotic. The condition appears to be that of hypertensive arteriosclerotic disease associated with atheromatous change. In the 1960s, Sandison examined and photographed mummy arteries using modern histologic methods (Fig.5). Arteries in the mummy tissues were described as tape-like, but could be dissected easily, whereupon arteriosclerosis, atheroma with lipid depositions, reduplication of the internal elastic lamina, and medial calcification were readily visible under microscopy.


Still more recently, one of the most extensively studied Egyptian mummies has been PUMIL from the Pennsylvania University Museum(hence its initials), now on loan to the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian. It is believed to be from the later Ptolemaic period, circa 170BC. The heart and portions of an atherosclerotic aorta were found in the abdominal cavity. Histologically, large and small arterioles and arteries from other organs showed areas of intimal fibrous thickening typical of sclerosis. These findings are particularly striking since the estimated age of PUM I at time of death was between 35 and 40 years.

Cairo, Cairo Governorate, Egypt

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