In 1825 Dr Augustus Bozzi Granville performed an autopsy on Irtyersenu, a 2600 year old Egyptian mummy, concluding that the woman died from an ovarian tumor. Later it was discovered that the tumor was benign and probably was not the cause of death. Now scientists from University College London reexamined the body, and identified the presence of tuberculosis markers, a common disease in Egypt at the time, concluding that that was the real cause of the woman’s death.
From the article abstract in Proceedings of the Royal Society B:
‘Dr Granville’s mummy’ was described to the Royal Society of London in 1825 and was the first ancient Egyptian mummy to be subjected to a scientific autopsy. The remains are those of a woman, Irtyersenu, aged about 50, from the necropolis of Thebes and dated to about 600 BC. Augustus Bozzi Granville (1783–1872), an eminent physician and obstetrician, described many organs still in situ and attributed the cause of death to a tumour of the ovary. However, subsequent histological investigations indicate that the tumour is a benign cystadenoma. Histology of the lungs demonstrated a potentially fatal pulmonary exudate and earlier studies attempted to associate this with particular disease conditions. Palaeopathology and ancient DNA analyses show that tuberculosis was widespread in ancient Egypt, so a systematic search for tuberculosis was made, using specific DNA and lipid biomarker analyses. Clear evidence for Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex DNA was obtained in lung tissue and gall bladder samples, based on nested PCR of the IS6110 locus. Lung and femurs were positive for specific M. tuberculosis complex cell-wall mycolic acids, demonstrated by high-performance liquid chromatography of pyrenebutyric acid–pentafluorobenzyl mycolates. Therefore, tuberculosis is likely to have been the major cause of death of Irtyersenu.
Full open access article in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Tuberculosis in Dr Granville’s mummy: a molecular re-examination of the earliest known Egyptian mummy to be scientifically examined and given a medical diagnosis
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Image: The original appearance of the Granville mummy. (a) Inner coffin lid; (b) unwrapped mummy (Granville 1825).