Business, Economics and Jobs

Study of mummies shows that ancient Egyptians lived with high levels of air pollution

A researcher investigating the health of ancient Egyptians has found that they may have suffered high levels of damaging air pollution, much like those that currently exist, according to LiveScience. Though the ancient air pollution wasn't generated by the causes of pollution today, the effects on the body were just as obvious, and in a lot of cases just as deadly.

Roger Montgomerie, a doctoral student at the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology at the University of Manchester, England, has uncovered evidence of particulates in the lung tissue of 15 separate mummies, including those of noblemen and priests, according to the Daily Mail. Particulates are tiny microscopic particles that have been linked to a variety of modern-day illnesses, including heart disease and cancer.

"I would say it would be less than modern day, but not much less. It's quite bizarre, if you think about it, considering we have the mass burning of fossil fuels and an awful lot of pollution that has been going on since the industrial revolution," Montgomerie said, according to LiveScience.

He said the mummies came from all strata of Egyptian society. Some were workers who lived about 1,800 years ago in a remote area called the Dakhleh Oasis, while others were upper-class nobles and priests or priestesses.

"Everyone seems to have a degree of it," Montgomerie said of the particulates, "it doesn't seem to be confined to one social group."

It has been believed that our increasingly industrial, fossil-fuel-burning lifestyle has led to a corresponding increase in airborne particulates, according to the Daily Mail. Ancient Egypt was a preindustrial society, but its people did cook, work metal and mine, all activities that can generate air pollution. And the Egyptian climate, with deserts and sandstorms, would have lifted grounded particulates into the air where they could be inhaled.

In an attempt to shed light on the source of the particulates, Montgomerie is burning different sources of fuel used by ancient Egyptians and capturing the particulates that are generated. He is also gathering sand from archaeological sites and comparing them to sandy particulates found in the lungs.

And lung disease might not have been the only problem the ancient Egyptians were dealing with. Earlier this month, an investigation of 44 mummies, one of them of a princess who died in 1550 B.C., revealed that nearly half showed evidence of calcification in their arteries, or atherosclerosis. The calcification occurs when fatty material accumulates inside arteries, eventually hardening into plaques. If the plaques block the arteries, they can cause heart attacks, according to LiveScience.