Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Ancient Egypt and a pioneer of palaeopathology

At the start of the last century, a team of archaeologists began a race against the clock to rescue thousands of human bodies from ancient graves in modern Egypt’s Lower Nubia region. They would have been lost forever when the Lower Aswan Dam was raised in 1907, causing the Nile to back up and flood the entire valley. Sir Grafton Elliot Smith’s study of the excavated bones pioneered the discipline of palaeopathology and the methods of modern epidemiology. Trust-funded researchers at the University of Manchester and the Natural History Museum are now tracking down the bones he collected and carrying on his work.

"You can draw so many conclusions about what ancient life was like from bones," says Professor Rosalie David at the University of Manchester. "You can see the disease patterns, what people ate, whether there's evidence of starvation. And you can get a picture of crime and punishment - you can see if people were hanged, for example. And physical trauma to the bones can be indicative of war or fighting."

Read more: The Wellcome Trust

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