CAIRO – 26 July 2022: A team of researchers from the University of New Jersey in the United States, the University of Alcala in Spain and the American University in Cairo found strong and convincing evidence that a mummy discovered in Luxor suffered at some point in her life from a brain injury and was the victim of a stroke.
The study’s authors wrote in an article recently published in the journal World Neurosurgery that the mummy belonged to a woman who lived in ancient Egypt. She suffered from a stroke that paralyzed the left half of her brain, and lived with this condition for several years. This type of brain injury is very familiar to clinicians in modern times.
This is a remarkable conclusion, as no clear evidence of stroke-related damage has been found in any other ancient skeleton in the world.
The person who suffered this unpleasant fate is a woman between the ages of 25 and 40, who has lived in Egypt about 2,700 years ago. This indicates that the woman lived during the 25th Dynasty, during which the Nubian rulers of the Kingdom of Kush reigned in northern Sudan and southern Egypt.
The Spanish archaeological mission found the mummified remains of the woman in Draa Abu al-Naga, the site of the ancient cemetery. Excavations have been carried out on the west bank of the Nile near Luxor for the past two decades.
For the purposes of this research project, the scientists studied the embalmed remains of the mummy with special X-rays to get more information about the bone structure and other skeletal properties. However, it was the direct physical examination of the mummy that led to their startling discovery, and it was her skeletal deformities that told the tale.
The woman's shoulders were shrunk and her head was pointing down as if she was being forced in that direction. Her right arm was outstretched to the side of the body, but her left arm was bent at the elbow with the forearm resting on the chest and the left hand in a very flexed position. The legs were straight and set together, but a slight forwarding of the position of the left foot was evident.
While the mummification process continued, the embalmers attempted to correct the distorted position of the woman's head and chest. They did this by placing a pair of sticks behind her back, which turned her posture into a more upright position. Another wooden stick shaped like a crutch was placed next to her body, possibly because she needed a cane to walk after her stroke injuries.
The discovery of sticks in the woman's grave may be of particular interest. This discovery may force archaeologists and Egyptologists to re-evaluate similar artifacts discovered in other regional excavations over the years.
The historical accounts of Egypt during the 25th Dynasty describe a state of decline. Political and economic instability enabled the Nubian invaders to conquer and control the country, beginning in 744 BC. But the changing tides in Egypt's political fortunes had no apparent effect on the state or progress of Egyptian medicine, which remained among the most advanced in the ancient world for thousands of years.
Given the impressive advances in ancient Egypt’s medical science, it wouldn't be surprising if Egyptian doctors were aware of strokes, understood their causes and effects, and took measures to help sufferers deal with the long-term impact.
It is worth mentioning that a 2017 study showed the skeletal remains of an 18th-century Italian priest named Don Giovanni Arcangeli, who had suffered a stroke before his death. Up until the discovery of this ancient Egyptian mummy, it had been classified as the oldest skeleton belonging to a stroke victim.