Don’t let anyone tell you that the modern diet is significantly worse than the diets of ancient populations. Apparently, even the wealthiest of our ancestors could’ve been lazy and fat too.
The remains of a 2,200-year-old priest went up on display for the first time at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on Tuesday, and examination of the mummy via a CT scan found that the man, known as Iret-hor-iru, or the “Protective Eye of Horus,” was afflicted with ailments such as cavities and clogged arteries, things that are more common in our current society.
Thanks to the mummification process, researchers found the remains of the man, nicknamed “Alex,” to be relatively intact. Exhibit curator Galit Bennett told the Associated Press that the man was afflicted with osteoporosis and receding gums as well, signs that he lived a sedentary lifestyle filled with carbohydrates. The examination also showed that he avoided manual labor and exposure to the sun. So, he was your typical couch potato—minus the wealth that comes with living in upper class Egyptian society.
“Osteoporosis is a disease that is characteristic of the 20th century, when people don’t work so hard. We are glued to screens,” said Bennett. “We were very surprised that there were people who didn’t do physical work and that it affected their bodies like this man here.”
This would come as no surprise for those familiar with the history of body image. According to ancient sculptures, excess of weight used to be a sign of wealth and health. Since food was more scarce, fatness was desirable. In Europe, weight implied that you lived a life of luxury, and didn’t have to participate in manual or hard labor. It seems that same thought process could’ve applied to ancient Egypt as well.
And according to NPR, Alex wasn’t alone in these afflictions. A 2013 examination of 137 mummies from around the world published in The Lancet found that 34 percent of them suffered from cardiovascular disease. Even studies surrounding bodies found in a cave on Kagamil Island near Alaska found that heart disease was common, even among people that exercised (or moved around a lot for survival) and weren’t subject to modern edible delights.
“Although commonly assumed to be a modern disease, the presence of atherosclerosis in pre-modern human beings raises the possibility of a more basic predisposition to the disease,” the authors of the 2013 paper noted.