Skulls of the ancient Egyptians used to spot neurological illness
Egypt, History, 3/15/2001
Scientists have found the skulls and paintings of the ancient Egyptians can reveal a lot about their neurological diseases.
Researchers studied the faces of 200 colour portraits of mummies housed in the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The portraits were painted at the beginning of the first millennium and were designed specifically to cover the head of the mummy with the likeness of the dead person.
The scientists also took detailed measurements of 32 skulls, excavated at Hawara in northern Egypt, to look for ridges left by brain tissue and the size and shape of the eye sockets.
Their studies, published in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, showed that two of the mummies had Parry-Romberg syndrome - a progressive disease where the side of the face and underlying bones disintegrates.
This can lead to epilepsy and migraine. Three of the skulls also had eyes which pointed inwards or had another abnormality - these are normally linked to abnormalities of the autonomic nervous system.
One mummy was found to have had oval eyes (corectopia) which scientists said could point to diabetes mellitus - 24% of diabetic patients have corectopia.
Evaluation The researchers from the US and Britain said their work had produced some very interesting research.
They said that even though the patients died about 2000 years before that it was still possible to assess their illness - even without a nervous system. "Neurological symptoms and signs are normally evaluated during life.
"We show here that, although the patients died about 2000 years ago, the probability that they had focal epilepsy, hemiplegic migraine, deviation of the visual axes (tropia), corectopia, and the autonomic nervous system dysfunction is very high. "Thus, clinical paleoneurology is possible without the presence of a living nervous system."
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