An Italian-Polish archaeological mission has made a groundbreaking discovery in Aswan, Egypt, unearthing the remains of a young woman who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis.
This finding marks the oldest diagnosed case of rheumatoid arthritis in ancient Egypt and sheds light on the health conditions of individuals living on the fringes of the ancient Egyptian state.
The joint Italian-Polish archaeological expedition, working in the Aswan and Nubia regions, is part of the Aswan-Kom Ombo Archaeological Project (AKAP).
Since 2005, the project has been dedicated to conducting archaeological surveys and documenting prehistoric sites.
It is a collaborative effort between the University of Bologna in Italy and the Polish Academy of Sciences.
Mustafa Waziri, the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, emphasized the significance of this discovery, stating that it represents the only known case of rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed in ancient Egypt to date.
Despite rheumatoid arthritis only being clinically defined in the seventeenth century, archaeological and historical evidence suggests its existence in earlier eras.
Detailed examinations of the skeletal remains reveal that the young woman suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, affecting multiple joints in her body, including her hands, feet, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and ankles.
The extensive impact of this autoimmune disease on her joints provides valuable insights into the health challenges faced by ancient Egyptians on society's outskirts.
While the archaeological team examined written and pictorial evidence for signs of rheumatoid arthritis in ancient Egypt, no definitive text or illustration directly referencing the disease has been found thus far.
Maria Carmela Gatto of the Polish Academy of Sciences and head of the mission stated that the primary goal of the Aswan-Kom Ombo Archaeological Project is to comprehend the health conditions of ancient Egyptians, particularly those belonging to lower social strata residing in the southernmost regions of the ancient Egyptian state.
Notably, in 2016, the project unveiled the first-ever case of vitamin C deficiency in the skeletal remains of a young child dating back to the Predynastic period (3800-3500 BCE).
This discovery was published in the International Journal of Paleopathology, demonstrating the project's commitment to uncovering ancient health insights.