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Wealthy Ancient Egyptians Suffered Disease

Egyptian skulls from necropolis
Two skulls excavated from the Qubbet el-Hawa necropolis in Egypt. (Image credit: Miguel Botella Lopez)

Even the best-off ancient Egyptians suffered from malnutrition and preventable disease, a new analysis of mummies and skeletons finds.

The bodies come from the Qubbet el-Hawa necropolis, which is near the modern city of Aswan in southern Egypt. Constructed in the 12th dynasty (between 1939 B.C. and 1760 B.C.) and re-used in later periods, the necropolis contains remains of people from across the social spectrum.

An analysis of more than 200 of these bodies, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, finds that wealth did not necessarily buy health in ancient Egypt.

"Although the cultural level of the age was extraordinary, the anthropological analysis of the human remains reveals the population in general, and the governors — the highest social class — lived in conditions in which their health was very precarious, on the edge of survival," study researcher Miquel Botella Lopez of the University of Granada said in a statement.

Life expectancy was only about 30 years, the researchers found, thanks to a high infant mortality rate, malnutrition and gastrointestinal infections caused by drinking polluted Nile waters. A great many of the dead in the necropolis were between 17 and 25 years old, the researchers announced today (March 6).

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Stephanie Pappas
Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science. She covers the world of human and animal behavior, as well as paleontology and other science topics. Stephanie has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has ducked under a glacier in Switzerland and poked hot lava with a stick in Hawaii. Stephanie hails from East Tennessee, the global center for salamander diversity. Follow Stephanie on Google+.