Ancient Fillings?

I was doing some Googling on ancient Egypt in the news and came across an interesting article entitled, “Mummy’s Sinus Infection, Tooth Problems Revealed by CT Scans”. The piece discusses how high resolution CT scanning technology has developed over twenty years and how it has impacted research.

In 1859, James Ferrier brought a mummified man in his 20’s from Thebes to Montreal. Until recent technological developments, the health condition of this unknown man was unclear. With advances in CT scanning, researchers have now been able to conclude that their mysterious mummy may not have died of age but of an untreatable sinus infection caused by tooth decay; the mummy had a mouth full of cavities and other tooth ailments. With high resolution CT scanning, researchers were able to see that these cavities had been packed with medicated linen to prevent food particles from getting trapped and to help ease the pain.

Modern day dentists believe that this severe condition would have been very painful and very hard to deal with during those times and even today with modern medicine. Because infections associated with the teeth cause many health problems it is believed that this is what cause the ancient Egyptians fatal sinus infection.

Though a scan was done in the 1990’s of this mummy, the resolution wasn’t high enough to properly identify the “fillings” in his teeth. Today, CT scans are six times more powerful than they were twenty years ago. High reslution scanning may help shed light on other cases, like the one of the mysterious man from Thebes with bad teeth, and may teach us more about the lives of people from the past.

This article sparked my interest because it talked baot medical practices of Ancient Egypt, stating that evidence of dentistry goes back to the time of the Great Pyramids. I think it is interesting to see how the ancient people dealt with health risks that we still experience in modern society and compare treatment methods.
I do not know much about ancient Egyptian medicine but I do know their diets consisted of coarsely ground grain that was had negative effects on their teeth. I am interested in learning about other health concerns that may have been negatively effected by the everyday lifestyles of the ancient Egyptians. To survive as a group of people, the Egyptians clearly knew how to treat medical issues, or else they wouldn’t have been such a successful society as we know of them today.

3 thoughts on “Ancient Fillings?

  1. Your post about the mummified man who may have died from the untreatable sinus infection was fascinating! I wasn’t aware that it was possible to determine that the tooth decay was packed with medicated linen through the use of a CT scan. How did the scientists determine that the linen was medicated? Did you read anything about them taking samples of the linen to run chemical analysis? I wonder what types of medication the soaked the linen in to prevent more decay. It is amazing that the new higher resolution CT scanners allows for greater understanding of

    I learned about the ancient Egyptians using honey to seal wounds such as scrapes so then bacteria could not enter and infect those who are injured. I did not know about ancient Egyptians practicing dentistry. What types of dentistry techniques did they employ on their patients? From what it sounds like, at least in this one case, the dentists did not pull teeth. Maybe if they had removed the teeth that were infected if it could have provided relief or even saved this persons life. I wonder if dentistry was a tradecraft that someone could apprentice to become, or if it was something priests practice.

  2. Very interesting find! You’re post intrigued me because it relates to what I study, forensic anthropology. As I also mentioned in my post this week, Egypt is a unique environment in which to study bioarchaeology. The desert climate and cultural practices had the same affect on ancient human remains. More specifically, the harsh and arid environment led to natural mummification and cultural beliefs yielded the artificial mummies that have intrigued archaeologists/Egyptologists since time immemorial. As you point out in your post, the mummification process allowed modern scientists to determine that an untreatable sinus infection may have been the causative agent of death. In similar vein, mummification opens up an entirely new realm of understanding for the life ways of ancient Egyptians. For example, it is well documented in both the archaeological and medical literature that large proportions of traumatic injuries only affect soft tissue and therefore are unobservable following the process of decomposition when archaeologists typically uncover a human skeleton. However, in Egypt, this predicament does not arise as soft tissue injuries are often times still intact. From a forensic anthropological perspective, this increases our understanding of the lifestyle and interactions of ancient peoples as we are allowed access to a greater amount of informative material for study.

  3. Wow, your article about this ancient mummified man and his now solved health issues was really intriguing! I have never looked too much into health related topics among the Ancient Egyptians, but this sparked my interest in the matter. I suppose I never really thought about all of the amazing things the society accomplished on top of the medical obstacles they overcame without being spoiled with our modern technology. To even think of having numerous severe cavities makes me cringe, then knowing that developed into a deadly sinus infection is unbearable. I am truly amazed by the new things I learn about the people of Ancient Egypt everyday.

    The fact that these CT scans are now so sophisticated we can actually see they used a remedy is incredible. Shoving medically saturated linen into a cavity is something I would have never thought to consider now, let alone those of an ancient society. I am glad to know that technology is constantly improving to help us further our understanding of Ancient Egypt. All of these technological advances made today make me so excited to know that we are uncovering more and more of the past; hopefully triggering a growing interest in archaeology an anthropology. Fingers crossed!

Comments are closed.