Pre-Dynastic infant with scurvy found near Aswan

Skeleton of a 16-month-old infant was uncovered in Nag Al-Qarmila area of Aswan. It is dated to Pre-Dynastic period and thus possesses the oldest signs of scurvy in Ancient Egypt. Scurvy is a disease resulting from a deficiency of vitamin C leading to clinical symptoms including hemorrhage, the elevation of the periosteum, hematoma formation, and the inhibition of bone growth. The infant was placed on its left side within the excavated settlement in a semi-flexed position with the talon of a raptor found nearby.

The skeleton of the infant (by Al-Ahram Weekly)
The skeleton of the infant (by Al-Ahram Weekly)

Studies have revealed that the bone remains of the child have changes in the shape of the skeletal structure, one of the clearest signs of the vitamin C deficiency that causes scurvy. Microscopic examination of the remains had revealed abnormal porosity, something often seen in scurvy victims. The child’s skull was virtually covered in patches of porous bone, including the jaw and the eye orbits. New bone formation suggestive of bone inflammation was also seen on the upper leg and arm bones.

X-ray image of the infant's bones with signs of scurvy (by Al-Ahram Weekly)
X-ray image of the infant’s bones with signs of scurvy (by Al-Ahram Weekly)

It is suggested that the child’s social status may have played a role in its falling victim to the disease. Although ancient Egyptians used to breastfeed their children until three years old, it is possible that his mother or wet nurse was also malnourished and so was unable to provide enough vitamin C for her child. If the ancient Egyptians were eating primarily meat, dairy products, fish, and cooked or preserved plants, their diets would be quite low in vitamin C but a secondary condition such as malaria could have factored into the child’s health, making the child more prone to reduced absorption of vitamin C.

(after Al-Ahram Weekly)

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