Archaeology

Kidney Spotted For First Time in Egyptian Mummy

The mummy dates back to some 2,800 years and his kidney was preserved thanks to end-stage renal tuberculosis.

Researchers in Portugal have found the first radiological outline of a kidney in an ancient Egyptian mummy and the oldest case of renal tuberculosis.

Kept at the National Museum of Archaeology in Lisbon, Portugal, the mummy, of unknown provenance, dates back to some 2,800 years.

"It's a male named Irtieru. We do not know exactly what he did in life, but the quality of his cartonnage links him to an elite family," professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo, told Discovery News.

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She noted the white cartonnage decorated in polychrome, on which Irtieru's name is painted vertically, is typical of the Twenty-Second Dynasty (about 945–712 BC).

X-Rays (radiography and CT scans) revealed Irtieru rests in his coffin with his arms lying alongside his body and with his hands crossed over his body. He was tall for his time, about 5.61 feet, and died between 35 and 45 years of age.

The researchers' attention, however, was drawn by a small, bean-shaped structure at the left lumbar region. To their knowledge, this is the first time a kidney has been depicted in X-Rays.

"This kidney display only happened as a consequence of a pathologic preservation, since Irtieru was affected by an end-stage renal tuberculosis," Carlos Prates, a radiologist at Imagens Médicas Integradas in Lisbon, told Discovery News.

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Calcification outlines Irtieru's putty kidney. The disease is characterized by a slow progression of fibrous lesions and calcifications.

Detailing their findings in The International Journal of Paleopathology, Prates, Ikram and colleagues argue that the diagnosis for kidney turberculosis is supported by the anatomical location, and morphologic and structural analysis of the organ.

Prates added that the only known transformative process that could lead to such condition is renal tuberculosis.

"If this diagnosis is correct this would be the oldest recorded case of this disease," the researchers wrote.

Irtieru's renal disorder is the reason his kidney was visible in the radiological analysis.

Kidneys did not seem to be well understood in ancient Egypt. The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus reported that these organs were usually not removed, because they were considered unimportant and difficult to extract through the embalming cut.

"It is possible that kidneys exist in more mummies but simply have gone unnoticed," Ikram said.

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She added these organs completely decay or are altered by the embalming process to the point that they become indistinguishable.

Most likely, kidney turbeculosis wasn't Irtieru's cause of death.

"Earlier on, sometimes several years, Irtieru's must have endured, and resisted, a more threatening event: his initial lung infection," he said.

Irtieru is one of the three human mummies studied at the National Museum of Archaeology in Lisbon along with seven animal mummies.

The task, known as Lisbon Mummy Project, began in 2007 and led to some new paleopathology findings, one of them being at rare prostate cancer in a mummy resting alongside Irtieru.

The mummy of Irtieru.

A young, short man with a slight resemblance to Michael Jackson, a woman with an elaborate hairstyle and an older woman who could slip, unnoticed, into today's society -- all died some 2,000 years ago but now facial reconstructions of the ancient Egyptians have brought them back to life.

The reconstructions were unveiled today at McGill University's Redpath Museum.

"People are amazed by mummies, but never more so, I've found, when they can see the face," said anthropologist Andrew Wade of Western University.

The high tech process, involving CT scanning and multiple scientific disciplines, recreates what the three individuals looked like as they were laid to rest nearly 2,000 years ago.

Here, a mummy is set to go into a CT scanner.

Mummies of a young male, a young female and an older woman were virtually unwrapped using CT scanning. Models of their bone structure were then created.

Barbara Lawson, a curator at the Redpath Museum who also worked on the project, added that all three mummies were scanned at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital as part of Western University's IMPACT Radiological Mummy Database Project.

Forensic artist Victoria Lywood undertook the actual reconstruction work, which was based on the 3-D high-resolution images along with ultrasonic images and anthropological research.

A step in the process involved sketching what the individuals would have looked like.

Some have detected a facial resemblance, at least from the front profile, with the late pop star Michael Jackson. Jackson was, in fact, very interested in Egyptian history, which might have influenced some of his personal style.

The Theban male died between the ages of 20-30. His mummy was purchased in Thebes, his likely place of death.

The young man was "relatively short in stature," according to Wade.

Lywood is one of the world's leading experts on such recreations.

"I reconstruct modern-day skulls, archaeological remains and fragmentary skulls," she told Discovery News. "The oldest I have constructed was from 6,000 years ago found in Israel. While there were people of all sizes throughout the ages, my experience is that skull size was much smaller than modern populations."

This Ptolemaic female was a "late adolescent girl or young woman of average height and elite status," Wade said. "Her age at death is estimated at between 18 and 24 years."

Her mummy was found "in a tomb pit in the solid rock near Hawara el-Makta in Fayum (Lower Egypt) and acquired in Egypt towards the end of the 19th century and donated to the Redpath Museum in 1895," Lawson said.

Clearly ancient Egyptians prized fashionable coifs, given the complexity of the young woman's hairstyle.

Her hair must have been fixed before mummification, perhaps in hopes of sending her off to the next life looking her best.

The hairdo of a young ancient Egyptian female was reconstructed on a modern woman.

The reconstructed young woman is shown here without her wig. Clearly her hair was a big part of her look.

The oldest individual of the three was this woman -- likely a tall, upper middle-class adult between the ages of 30 and 50 years old.

If she were alive today, this woman (at least based on her physical appearance) would probably fit right in with modern society.

As Wade said, "Humans have been physically pretty much the same for the last 2,000 years...That's not to say that evolution has stopped working on us, but the time frame of 2,000 years is just a drop in the bucket for noticeable physical changes and we've reduced the need for physical changes by adapting culturally."

The three ancient Egyptian people died at somewhat different times and never knew each other. But, as reconstructions, the early Egyptians will spend even more time together, because they will star in a new display in the Redpath Museum's World Cultures gallery starting in February.