The Egyptian mummy of a young woman aged about 20, dating back to the late Ptolemaic period (II-I century B.C.) and currently exhibited in the municipal museum of Narni (central Italy), was submitted to autopsy1. The embalming technique of this period, consisting of evisceration followed by re-deposition of the internal organs in the body cavities, made it possible to study these organs.

Autopsy revealed a bundle of linen bandages, enveloping a hollow muscular organ, measuring 9x6x3 cm, with a 5 mm thick wall, identified as the stomach. After rehydration2, light microscopy showed a 6×4 mm cystic structure, with a wall of  about 80 mm, humped by externally projected protrusions. Under a layer of loose fibrous tissue a rostellum – with two rows of hooklets –  and two roundish structures, identifiable as suckers, were visible. Morphology strongly suggested a cysticercus of Taenia solium (or “pig tapeworm”).

Immunohistochemistry was performed using the indirect immunofluorescence method: samples of tissue were fixed in 10% neutral buffered formalin and embedded in paraffin; 5-μm thick tissue sections, mounted on electrostatically charged glass slides, were dewaxed in histolene and, after rehydration, heated by microwave in citrate buffer3; after three washes in phosphate-buffered saline (PBS), sections were preblocked with bovine serum albumin (1% in PBS) and incubated at 4°C for 24 h with a human serum highly reactive to T. solium, provided by Dr. Noh (Centers for Disease Control, Chamblee, GA); after buying zithromax over the counter, the sections were incubated with a FITC-labeled anti-human IgG (1: 200 dilution), at room temperature for 1 hour, then washed and mounted, in order to be observed later with a laser confocal microscope (Radiance Plus Biorad) (further details available from FB).
The wall of the cystic structure showed an intense yellow-green fluorescence.
We can reliably assert that this young Egyptian woman was affected by – and most probably died of – cysticercosis.

This discovery is of great scientific importance because, up until now, as far as tapeworms are concerned, only the presence of ova has been documented in the intestinal tract of an Egyptian male buried in the first half of the XII century BC; it is the famous mummy of Nakht, “the weaver of the funerary temple of the Pharaoh Setnakht” (1184-1181 BC)4; similar ova were also found in the bowels of an adult Chinese male from the Western Han dynasty buried in 167 BC5.

This is the first paleopathological diagnosis of cysticercosis, i.e. of human tissue invasion by T. solium larvae, and confirms the wide diffusion in Egypt of the farming of pigs, representing the most common intermediate hosts of T. solium.

Fabrizio Bruschi, Massimo Masetti, Maria Teresa Locci, Rosalba Ciranni, Gino Fornaciari
Department of Experimental Pathology (FB, MTL); Department of Ethology, Ecology ed Evolution (MM); Department of Oncology, Transplants and Advanced Technologies in Medicine, Division of Paleopathology (RC, GF), University of Pisa, Via Roma 57, 56126 Pisa, Italy



Fig. 1 Coffin of the Narni’s mummy


Fig. 2 Coffin of the Narni’s mummy: particular


Fig. 3 The mummy in the coffin


Fig. 4 Cysticercus present in the stomach wall of the mummy


Fig. 5 Egyptian drawings of swine breeding


Fig. 6 Egyptian drawings of swine breeding




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