The British journal Lancet released a study on March 10 that breaks new ground in the constant battle over the ways modern living can damage a person's health. The study, titled "Atherosclerosis across 4000 years of human history: the Horus study of four ancient populations", conducted whole body CT scans of 137 mummies from four geographically separate cultures. The authors found calcified plaque in the arteries of 34 percent of the mummies. Hardening of the arteries, or atherosclerosis, has been considered a condition brought on by western lifestyles and current eating habits.
Mummies from ancient Egypt, Peru, the American southwest and the Aleutian Islands were examined. The discovery of plaque deposits in the arteries of 47 of the mummies strongly suggests that atherosclerosis is not a condition limited to industrial and post-industrial populations. Some of the mummies were from huntergatherer peoples that had not yet developed agriculture.
The study offers this interpretation:
Atherosclerosis was common in four preindustrial populations including preagricultural huntergatherers. Although commonly assumed to be a modern disease, the presence of atherosclerosis in premodern human beings raises the possibility of a more basic predisposition to the disease.
The study notes that the diets of the four populations studied varied greatly. The Unangans of the Aleutian Islands ate a diet almost entirely from marine sources. The other three cultures obtained meat from domesticated animals or hunting, and engaged in agriculture.
Previous, less broad studies, of Egyptian and Unangan mummies, also revealed plaque deposits which are considered characteristic of atherosclerosis, according to this study's authors. The conclusion drawn in the study, given the time span covered by the mummies, is that hardening of the arteries is a component of human aging and not characteristic of any particular life style or dietary regime.