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Mummies Reveal Ancient Egyptian Children Plagued By Blood Disorders

Ancient Egyptian Children Plagued By Blood Disorders
A study conducted on mummies of ancient Egyptian children revealed that the children were plagued by blood disorders. Credit: Nathan Rupert / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A recent study has discovered that a significant number of mummified children from ancient Egypt had a type of blood disorder called anemia. This finding suggests that these young individuals may have faced various health issues related to malnutrition and growth defects.

To conduct the study, an international team of researchers used a technique called full-body CT scans, which allowed them to examine the remains of 21 child mummies.

These children had passed away between the ages of 1 and 14. By carefully analyzing the scans, the team looked for signs of anemia, such as unusual growth patterns in the skulls, arms, and legs of the mummified bodies.

The results of the study revealed that seven of the examined mummies, which account for approximately 33% of the sample, displayed indications of anemia.

These indications were observed as thickening of the skull bones. It is estimated that nowadays anemia affects around 40% of children 6–59 months of age globally, according to the World Health Organization.

Published on April 13 in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, this study is believed to be one of the first of its kind to examine the presence of anemia in mummified children.

The research encompasses child mummies from various regions of Egypt, spanning from the Old Kingdom (third millennium B.C.) to the Roman Period (fourth century A.D.).

Study sheds light on ancient societies’ health issues

Sahar Saleem, head and professor of radiology at Cairo University and a member of the Egyptian Mummy Project, says the recent research on anemia in ancient Egypt has the potential to reveal important details about the health conditions, dietary deficiencies, and social norms of ancient societies.

In an email to Live Science, Saleem said that this study, although he was not directly involved in it, sheds light on significant aspects of ancient civilizations.

Indigo Reeve, a bioarchaeologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland who also was not part of the study, provided a definition of anemia.

Ancient Egyptian Mummy
Ancient Egyptian Mummy of a Child. Credit: International Journal of Osteoarchaeology / CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Reeve explained that anemia refers to a condition characterized by a lack of healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin.

Additionally, it can have multiple causes, including dietary deficiencies, inherited disorders, and infections, which can result in intestinal blood loss and inadequate absorption of nutrients.

Moreover, Reeve said that anemia usually leads to fatigue and weakness, but in more severe cases, it can cause irregular heartbeat and be life-threatening, depending on its type and severity.

This research is significant as it reveals the connection between the health status of ancient Egyptians, their dietary practices, and the societal standards prevalent during that time.

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