Mummy remains refute antiquity of ankylosing spondylitis

Egyptian mummies show no signs of disabling arthritis.

 Ankylosing spondylitis is a systemic disease that causes inflammation in the spinal joints and was believed to have affected several members of the ancient Egyptian royal families. However, a novel study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, a journal of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), contests that claim, finding instead a degenerate spinal condition called diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH) in royal Egyptian mummies from the 18th to the early 20th Dynasties.

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Ankylosing spondylitis is a member of a group of inflammatory conditions known as the spondyloarthropathies that cause arthritis and affect up to 2.4 million Americans over the age of 15 according to the ACR. The most common in this rheumatic disease family is ankylosing spondylitis, a disease that causes pains and stiffness in the back that may lead to a bony fusion of the spine. Studies estimate that ankylosing spondylitis affects approximately one percent of the population, in particular, young men.

In DISH the hardening of ligaments along the vertebrae of the spine produces stiffness in the upper back and can affect other joints in the body. Whilst DISH can often appear to be similar to ankylosing spondylitis, it is a degenerative condition and not an inflammatory type of arthritis, affecting those of 60 years of age and older.

Previous research using x-ray images stated that three Pharaohs (Amenhotep II, Ramesses II, and his sone Merenptah) showed evidence of ankylosing spondylitis. The new study used computer tomography (CT), a more sophisticated imaging technology, in order to study thirteen royal Egyptian mummies from 1492-1153 BC to determine if signs of ankylosing spondylitis or DISH were present.

Ramses II Mummy: WikiPedia
Ramses II Mummy: WikiPedia

A diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis was ruled out because there was an absence of joint erosion in the lower back and pelvis area (sacroiliac joints) or fusion sacroiliac joints or of small joints between the vertebra in the spine (facet joints) on the CT scans of the mummies. Signs of DISH were discovered in four Pharaohs (Amenhotep III-18th Dynasty; Ramesses II, his son Merenptah, and Ramesses III- 19th to the early 20th Dynasties).

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The study was conducted by Dr. Sahar Saleem with the Kasr Al Ainy Faculty of Medicine in Cairo, Egypt and Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egyptologist and former head of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities. The authors say, “The mummies of Ancient Egypt offer a wealth of information regarding the history of disease. In studying these ancient remains we may be able to uncover the pathway of diseases- like ankylosing spondylitis or DISH- and how they might impact modern populations.” Dr. Sahar Saleem adds, “The process of mummification could induce spinal changes, which could be considered when investigating diseases in ancient remains.”


Contributing Source: Wiley

Header Image Source: Wikimedia


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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

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