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Ancient Egyptians Could've Been Fat and Lazy Too

Image: AP
Image: AP

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.

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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.

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“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.”

Image: AP
Image: AP

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.

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“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.

[NPR via The Times of Israel]

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Weekend editor and night person at Gizmodo. More space core than human.

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DISCUSSION

Osteoporosis and gingival recession are also signs of having lived for a while. The article doesn’t say how old the man was when he died, and “lazy” is a particularly pejorative word to use in what is supposed to be an analysis. Osteoporosis has a high genetic component and is common in older people despite their exercise. They mention a high-carbohydrate diet in a man who came from a country where the principal farm product was wheat. I would venture that pretty much every other person who lived at that time ate some form of wheat product supplemented by things like dates and figs...The food was high-energy and didn’t spoil too quickly, and was portable.