Examining Skeletal Remains
from Ancient Egypt
Can examining pedal skeletal remains provide any information about an individual’s health or quality of life? Actually, a vast amount of information regarding lifestyle and systemic health can be ascertained from these osseous remains.
The Dayr Al-Barsha project in Egypt studies mummies and artifacts that span the entire era of the
pharaohs into early Christian history.1 There were two bodies recovered from this excavation site showing
signs of amputation through the metatarsal area (distal foot). 2 These amputations were non-traumatic in
nature, suggesting that a systemic illness brought about the auto-amputation. 3 Diabetes is likely the underlying culprit that contributed to the loss of their toes, since medical papyrus from that era documented
how common this conditions was in Egypt at the time. 4 The diet of the ancient Egyptians contributed to
the prevalence of diabetes largely due to over consumption of honey. 5
Another mummy recovered from Sheik Abd el-Qurna on the west bank of the Nile, shows evidence
of a big toe amputation fitted with a wooden prosthetic device. 6 It should be noted that as of 2014 in the
United States, 29.1 million people have diabetes. 7 Diabetes is still the leading cause of non-traumatic
lower extremity amputation today. 8 Auto-amputation of toes is a result of uncontrolled diabetes leading to
ischemic vascular disease. 9 The lack of blood flow gives way to dry gangrene and putrefaction. 10
Pediatric skeletal deformities are also noted in ancient Egypt. King Tut, the young pharaoh,
was plagued with painful ailments throughout his short life.11 Most notably amongst his mal-adies were a clubfoot and bone necrosis, appearing on Computerized Tomography (CT) scans
of his extremities. 12 Clubfoot, also known as talipes equinovarus (TEV), is a congenital birth
defect leaving the patient’s foot severely contracted. 13 This deformity still occurs in one out of
every 1,000 births and without treatment can be debilitating. 14 The bone necrosis identified on
the CT scan is that of Kohler’s disease. 15 Kohler’s disease is necrosis of the navicular bone, due
to disruption of the blood supply with usual onset around 4 years of age. 16 This condition usually
resolves with skeletal maturity and rarely persists into adulthood. 17
Evaluation of pedal bones provides a glimpse into the medical conditions of past civilizations.
In the modern era, pediatric deformities like clubfoot can be managed by casting and surgical
intervention, if needed. Despite all the advances in science and technology, humanity is still
battling diseases like diabetes and its complications today.
1. DAYR AL-BARSHA PROJECT. N.p., n.d. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.
2. Malnasi, Cindy. PALEOPATHOLOGY IN ANCIENT EGYPT:
EVIDENCE FROM THE SITES OF DAYR AL-BARSH AND SHEIKH
SAID. Thesis. University of Central Florida, 2010
3. Malnasi, pg 150
5. Owen, James. “Egyptian Princess Mummy Had Oldest Known
Heart Disease.” National Geographic News Apr.-May 2011:
1-2. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.
6. Malnasi pg 151
7. 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report. Rep. N.p.: n.p., n.d.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.
8. Driver, V. R., J. Madsen, and R. A. Goodman. “Reducing
Amputation Rates in Patients With Diabetes at a Military Medical
Center: The Limb Preservation Service Model.” Diabetes Care
28. 2 (2005): 248-53. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.
9. Fikri, R., C. D. Bicknell, L. M. Bloomfield, S. P. R. Lyons, D. G.
Samarasinghe, R. G. J. Gibbs, and J. Valabhji. “Awaiting
Autoamputation: A Primary Management Strategy for Toe
Gangrene in Diabetic Foot Disease.” Diabetes Care 34.8
(2011): n. pag. Web
11. Buyting, Sonya. “King Tut Felled by His Feet, No His Foes.”
Globe and Mail 17 Feb. 2010: 1-2. Web.
13. Kennedy, Seamus, CPed. “ Oandp.com.” Treating Pediatric
Clubfoot and Pes Planus. N.p., May 2009. Web. 08 Dec.
15. Ibid. “King Tut Felled by His Feet”
16. Wheeless, Charles, MD. “Kohler’s Disease I.” Wheeless’
Textbook of Orthopaedics. N.p., Apr.-May 2012. Web. 08
An x-ray image
of Kohler’s disease
in the navicular of
the left foot.