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2,000-year-old pregnant Egyptian mummy died of rare type of cancer

Scientists at the Warsaw Mummy Project in Poland were carrying out a scan of the ancient corpse’s skull when they discovered unusual markings in the bone.
B. Bajerski/Muzeum Narodowe w Warszawie/Facebook

A 2,000-year-old Egyptian mummy is believed to have died from a rare form of cancer, according to new research.

Scientists at the Warsaw Mummy Project in Poland were carrying out a scan of the ancient corpse’s skull when they discovered unusual markings in the bone.

The markings are similar to those found in patients suffering from nasopharyngeal cancer, leading the scientists to believe that the mummy most likely died of the same disease.Warsaw Mummy Project

Similar to those found in patients suffering from nasopharyngeal cancer, the scientists concluded that the mummy most likely died of the same disease.

Nasopharyngeal cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects the part of the throat connecting the back of the nose to the back of the mouth.

Images released by the Warsaw Mummy Project (WMP) show the skull with lesions most likely made by a tumour.Warsaw Mummy Project

Images released by the Warsaw Mummy Project (WMP) show the skull with lesions most likely made by a tumour.

Marzena Ożarek-Szilke from the WMP said: “When preparing the skull of the mummy we examined for 3D prints, we noticed large defects in parts of the bones, larger than those usually formed during mummification procedures.”

Marzena Ożarek-Szilke from the Warsaw Mummy Project (front) said: ‘When preparing the skull of the mummy we examined for 3D prints, we noticed large defects in parts of the bones, larger than those usually formed during mummification procedures.’Albert Zawada/PAP

Brought to Poland in the mid-19th century, last year scientists from the Warsaw Museum Project discovered that the mummy was pregnant and that the foetus had been ‘pickled like a gherkin’.

This is the first known case of a pregnant ancient Egyptian mummy.

Warsaw Mummy Project

Brought to Poland in the mid-19th century, last year scientists from the Warsaw Museum Project discovered that the mummy was pregnant and that the foetus had been ‘pickled like a gherkin’.Warsaw Mummy Project

The mummy was previously thought to be the remains of the priest Hor-Jehuti, until it was discovered in 2016 to be an embalmed woman.

The examination last year using tomographic imaging revealed that the woman was between 20-30 years old when she died and was in her 26th to 30th week of her pregnancy.

Referring to the latest findings, professor Rafał Stec from the Department of Oncology at the Medical University of Warsaw said: “We have unusual changes in the nasopharyngeal bones, which, according to the mummy experts, are not typical of the mummification process.

The mummy was previously thought to be the remains of the priest Hor-Jehuti, until it was discovered in 2016 to be an embalmed woman.CC BY-SA 4.0

“Secondly, the opinions of radiologists based on computed tomography indicate the possibility of tumour changes in the bones.”

He added that the young age of the mummy and the lack of another cause of death indicate an ‘oncological cause’.

Scientists from the Warsaw Mummy Project say they now plan to collect tissue samples and compare them with cancer samples from other Egyptian mummies.

Scientists hope the most recent discovery can help understand how cancers evolve.Jacek Turczyk/PAP

By revealing the ‘molecular signature’ of cancer, it is hoped that this will expand the knowledge of cancer evolution and could contribute to the development of modern medicine.

In 2017, scientists discovered the world’s oldest known case of breast cancer and multiple myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer, in two ancient mummies.

The female dating from 2,000 BC and the male from 1,800 BC are thought to have belonged to the ruling classes.


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