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Wrong Cause Of Death For Historic Mummy Autopsy

September 30, 2009

The first-ever scientific autopsy of an Egyptian mummy concluded that the woman had died from complications with ovarian cancer, but a new study has shown that conclusion may have been wrong.

Augustus Bozzi Granville, a British physician and obstetrician, completed the first-ever mummy autopsy in 1825. He noted that the cause of death was ovarian cancer.

“I determined, perfect and beautiful as it was, to make it the object of further research by subjecting it to the anatomical knife, and thus to sacrifice a most complete specimen of the art of Egyptian embalming, in hopes of eliciting some new facts illustrative of so curious and interesting a subject,” Granville said in his description to the Royal Society of London.

Upon surveying the thinning pelvic bone of the 50-55-year-old woman, Dr Granville came to the conclusion that she had an ovarian tumor, which he attributed to her death.

But researchers at the University College London have found that the mummy, a woman named Irtyersenu (also known as “Dr. Granville’s mummy”), may have died from tuberculosis.

“He was remarkably careful and thorough,” Dr Helen Donoghue said of Granville’s six-week autopsy.

“It was the first time anybody had tried to do a medical autopsy on an Egyptian mummy,” she told BBC Health.

“Before that it was all about their entertainment value – it was a bit like a circus – and most of the interest was in the jewelry that was wrapped up in the bandages.”

The UCL team noted that the tumor was most likely benign, and her death was likely caused by tuberculosis symptoms of inflamed lungs.

In their study of the mummy’s remains, the UCL team found traces of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in lung, gall bladder and bone.

“We are able to enhance the original paper by Granville to the Royal Society by concluding that there is evidence of an active of tuberculosis infection in the lady Irtyersenu and that this, rather than a benign ovarian cystadenoma, was likely to be a major cause of her death,” researchers noted in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B.

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