Italian and Polish researchers have made a significant discovery in the necropolis of Sheikh Muhammad, located in Aswan, Egypt. In one of the excavated tombs, they found the skeletal remains of a young woman displaying clear signs of having suffered from rheumatoid arthritis.

This marks the first diagnosed case of this inflammatory disease in ancient Egypt, making it one of the oldest documented examples in the world. Rheumatoid arthritis primarily affects the joints, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness. Clinically defined in the 17th century, this new archaeological evidence suggests its presence thousands of years ago.

The researchers explained that the bones showed damage in joints such as hands, feet, shoulders, elbows, and ankles, aligning with the characteristic symptoms. Despite not having found pharaonic texts explicitly mentioning this condition, the discovery provides valuable scientific proof of its existence in ancient Egypt.

This find is part of the Aswan-Kom Ombo Project (AKAP), an archaeological initiative carried out since 2005 by the University of Bologna and the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures in Poland.

Its main goal is to study the health conditions of the most disadvantaged population in southern Egypt during pharaonic times.

In the future, further analysis will be conducted on the skeletal remains, such as X-rays and carbon-14 dating, to gather more information about this individual and her illness.

Dr. Maria Carmela Gatto of the Polish Academy of Sciences, and leader of the mission, emphasized that the Aswan-Kom Ombo project aims to understand and study the health conditions of ancient Egyptians, especially those from the lower strata of society living on the outskirts of the ancient Egyptian state, such as in the far south.

Dr. Antonio Corsi of the University of Bologna and codirector of the mission mentioned that the AKAP project has been working in the Aswan and Nubia region since 2005, conducting archaeological explorations and documenting prehistoric areas, continuing the University of Bologna’s mission in collaboration with the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

In 2016, the project managed to discover the first case of vitamin C deficiency in the bone structure of a young child, found in a village dating back to the pre-dynastic period (3800-3500 B.C.), and this discovery was published in the International Journal of Paleopathology.


Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of Egypt

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