An Italian-Polish joint archaeological mission has discovered in an ancient burial site the skeleton of a young woman who had died suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
The burial site, Sheikh-Mohamed, lies within the area of the Aswan-Kom Ombo Archaeological Project (AKAP) in the south of Egypt.
Mustafa Waziri, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that this was the only case of rheumatoid arthritis discovered so far in ancient Egypt, making it one of the oldest cases in the world. He emphasised the importance of the discovery, saying that extensive research will be conducted on the skeleton discovered.
Although rheumatoid arthritis was only defined clinically in the 17th century, Dr Waziri remarked, archaeological and historical evidence shows the disease existed earlier than that.
Abdel-Moneim Said, Director General of Aswan Antiquities, revealed that examination of the newly-discovered skeleton showed that a number of joints on both sides of the body were affected, starting from the hands and through to the shoulders, elbows, wrists, ankles, and feet. The archaeological mission, he said, had found no clear text describing this condition in ancient Egypt, in all the written and photographic evidence that they studied.
Maria Carmela Gatto from the Polish Academy of Sciences, and head of the mission, said that AKAP aims mainly to understand and study the health conditions of ancient Egyptians, especially those who belonged to the lower-middle classes of society, and who lived on the outskirts of the country, primarily in the far south.
Antonio Curci from the Italian University of Bologna and deputy head of the mission explained that AKAP has been operating since 2005 in the Aswan and Nubia archaeological area and is working on archaeological survey and documentation of prehistoric areas. It is affiliated with the mission of the Italian University of Bologna in cooperation with the Institute of Mediterranean and Eastern Cultures – Polish Academy of Science.
In 2016, the project succeeded in detecting the first case of scurvy—vitamin C deficiency—in the skeleton of a young child who was found in a village dating back to the pre-dynastic period (3800-3500 BC). The discovery was published in the International Journal of Paleopathology. And in 2018, the mission discovered an ancient tomb dating back to 3500 BC, in which a pregnant woman and her unborn fetus were buried.
5 February 2024