Poor Princess Ahmose Meryet Amon. She lived around 3500 years ago, and died in her 40s. Like most royals, she was mummified and in this case, entombed at Deir Al-Bahri on Luxor’s west bank (though visitors to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo can now see her there).
Scans of the princess’s body revealed some interesting details about royal life and premature death in ancient Egypt. Indeed, she was revealed to be the earliest known sufferer of a condition caused coronary atherosclerosis: a buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and death.
Princess Ahmose evidently lived the good life in the royal household, because five of her major arteries contained blockages—including the ones that supply blood to the heart and brain. According to Gregory Thomas, professor of cardiology and co-leader on this major study about Egyptian mummies’ arterial health, said “if the princess was in a time machine and I was to see her now, I would tell her to lay off the fat, take plenty of exercise, then schedule her for heart surgery. She would require a double bypass.”
Normally, a mummy’s internal organs and heart are removed as part of the mummification process, but CT scans of the princess and other mummies from the Egyptian museum revealed calcification at organ sites that indicate artery damage.
In combination with the CT scan results, a medical text that dates back to around 1550/1580 B.C. (when the princess lived) describes the symptoms of chest and arm pain that precede severe or fatal heart attacks.
And while the ancient Egyptians didn’t have many of the modern risk factors available to them that we tend to associate with heart disease and atherosclerosis (ie. smoking, obesity, trans-fatty foods, diabetes), royal persons like the Princess Ahmose were members of the elite… and therefore more prone to developing heart disease than the average ancient Egyptian.
Adel Allam, professor of cardiology at Al Azhar University in Egypt, commented that “even the very poor people would eat a lot of pork, and the bread became mixed with honey. If ordinary people at this time did get a lot of carbohydrates and fat in their diets, then of course the elite would have got even more unhealthy food.”
In fact, some previous studies have revealed evidence for diabetes in ancient Egypt, despite being often thought of as a modern disease. Medical papyri written by ancient physicians refer occasionally to diabetes symptoms in their patients.
Additional research is being done on the princess and the other mummies, however, because there may also be a genetic element involved in who developed atherosclerosis—as well as the possibility that it can be brought on by chronic inflammation through an ongoing immune system response (ie. autoimmune condition).
Princess Ahmose, sadly, was known to have suffered arthritis and joint inflammation, as well as from dental disease—all which may have been a result of poor diet, thereby contributing the the development of atherosclerosis and bringing about her early demise