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Malaria in Ancient Egypt: Paleoimmunological Investigation on Predynastic Mummified Remains

"We examined samples from the Marro''s Collection, belonging to the Anthropological and Ethnographic Museum of Turin, to determine the presence of malaria antigens. The specimens we assessed belong to predynastic mummies (3.200 B.C.) from Gebelen. For detection of malaria, we applied a paleoimmunological investigation, using an immunoenzymatic assay (Para Sight™ - F test) revealing trophozoite derived from Plasmodium falciparum histidine rich protein-2 antigen (PfHRP-2) on skin, muscle and bone samples. Excluding only the poorly conserved mummies, we analyzed about fifty of the 85 individuals of this collection. In these Egyptian mummies we have detected the presence of malaria, according to the observation of thalassemia in the same mummies, as reported in previous paper (E. Rabino Massa 1977). In parallel, we undertook a morphological study on the skeletons to detect macroscopic signs of malaria, to confirm immunological results. The skulls exhibit the "hair-on-end" pattern, while the vertebrae often display compression of the central portions of the vertebral bodies. The results obtained suggest an incidence of malaria of about 40% in the mummies of the Gebelen group examined. These data are compatible with other observations effected on populations living in similar ecological conditions of malarial areas."

Author(s):  Rabino Massa, Emma; Cerutti, Nicoletta; Marin D. Savoia, A
Source:  Chungara, Revista de Antropología Chilena
Volume Info:  2000
Volume:  32
Number:  1