Israel Museum

This 2,200-year-old Egyptian mummy binged on carbs and sat a lot

One of us!

JOSH HRALA
27 JUL 2016
 

After 88 years in storage, a 2,200-year-old Egyptian mummy named Alex – who reportedly ate a large diet of carbs, didn’t like going outside, and spent most of his time sitting down – just went on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

While it’s always exciting to hear that a never-before-seen mummy will finally be revealed to the public, Alex is special because he shows that a sedentary lifestyle and modern ailments – such as tooth decay and osteoporosis – were around thousands of years ago.

 

"Osteoporosis is a disease that is characteristic of the 20th century, when people don't work so hard. We are glued to screens," the museum’s curator Galit Bennett told Tia Goldenberg for Associated Press.

"We were very surprised that there were people who didn't do physical work and that it affected their bodies like this man here."

Alex’s remains were originally found sometime in the early 20th century in Akhmim, a region that lies roughly 480 kilometres (300 miles) from modern Cairo. His burial suggests he was a priest during his life.

In the late 1920s, Alex was gifted to the Jesuit Pontifical Biblical Institute in Jerusalem by Jesuits living in Egypt, becoming the first ancient Egyptian artefact housed in Israel. Since then, he has sat in storage.

The team says that Alex stood at roughly 1.5 metres (5 feet) tall, though he was likely taller before the effects of osteoporosis made him shrink, and he lived to be about 30- to 40-years-old, dying around the second century BC.

"He was originally 167 centimetres (5.6 feet) tall [but] either in his lifetime or afterward, he had shrunk to 154 centimetres (5.1 feet). His apparently sedentary lifestyle, as well as inscriptions on his coffin, indicates he was a priest, the museum said," Goldenberg reports.

 

Based on CT scans, researchers at the museum also know that Alex suffered from a few other ailments, too, such as tooth decay, heart disease, and lack of Sun exposure. In other words, he had many conditions that we often attribute to the modern day world where many of us are sedentary.

It's likely that Alex was able to avoid physical labour and enjoy such a calorie-heavy diet - likely rich with carbs - due to his high status role in the community. But Alex isn’t the only mummy to be found suffering from similar conditions.

"Nearly half of 44 mummies from a 2011 study of ancient Egyptian men and women preserved as mummies showed signs of clogged arteries," Rebecca Hersher reports for NPR.

"And it wasn't just Egypt: a 2013 study of 137 mummies from around the world found about a third probably had cardiovascular disease."

Since these ancient ailments are still mysterious, the hope is that future CT scans and radiocarbon analyses will shed new light on how ancient peoples contracted conditions that we often attribute to our modern lifestyles.

Alex’s conditions aren’t the only interesting discoveries researchers have made about ancient Egypt recently. Back in June, Egyptologists from the US found evidence that suggests the Great Pyramid of Giza is actually lopsided thanks to an error made during construction.

Also, earlier this month, researchers from Egypt uncovered the oldest writings ever found in the region, which document how workers were paid as they built the pyramids. Needless to say, it’s been an exciting year for archaeologists in Egypt.

Alex went on display on 26 July at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. 

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