Monday, 1 November 2010

Study Of Mummies Shows That Cancer Was Not Common in the Ancient World

If you have ever wondered what you would have died of if you lived several thousands of years ago, you will be relieved to know that our modern scourge, cancer, would have been the least of your problems. A massive study of around 1,000 ancient mummies from Egypt and South America undertaken by the University of Manchester has revealed only 1 case of cancer.  So was cancer absent from the population in ancient times because they did not live in modern conditions, or was it because they did not live long enough to develop the disease?

A lifespan of between 30-40 years was about the going rate in Ancient Egypt and pre-Columbian South America, although a few individuals did live for considerably longer.  For example, Ramsses II lived into his nineties.  So if cancer wasn't a killer, what was killing off these populations so young?  In all ancient populations, poor nutrition, and even starvation, was not an uncommon occurrence in the lower classes. Ancient Egyptians also commonly suffered from quite severe dental problems, as sand would find its way into grain that was going to be used to make bread, and by eating this bread on a daily basis the teeth of the Egyptians would be worn down and the pulp exposed.  Cooking was also done over fires, and often in enclosed  spaces, so acrid smoke would be regularly be breathed into the lungs.  Workers on the tombs and temples risked accidents from falling masonry, lung disease from breathing in dust and immense wear and tear on their joints and spines.

There were also still a lot of dangerous animals in Egypt in ancient times, so people would have been killed by hippos, crocodiles, snakes and scorpions.  Infectious diseases would have regularly swept through the population as there were no vaccinations and no effective drugs to cure the illness.  Back then, childbirth would also have been a very risky business, and there was a very high mortality rate for both mother and infant.

So although cancer was not a worry, your average ancient person had more than enough health worries and ways to die.

Read more on the cancer free Ancient Mummies

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