Unusual finding in 3,000 year old skeleton

By | Health & Wellness
Durham University bioarchaeologist Michaela Binder investigates the 3,000 year old skeleton: Credit@ british museaum

Scientists have hit on an unusual finding that could lead to a better understanding of cardiovascular issues. Upon the discovery of ancient African skeletons, it has been identified that the 3,000 year old skeletons had furred arteries, a health condition that has been previously associated with smoking and diet. Now scientists are faced with questions about the relationship between humans and the cardiovascular system.

Furred arteries is a common symptom in atherosclerosis, a condition whereby artery walls are thickened due to a fatty build and can lead to cardiovascular issues. The common diagnosis for furred arteries is based on over-indulging in fatty and unhealthy foods or smoking. The new findings reveal that furred arteries have been affecting human health for at least 3,000 years and the associations between health, diet and smoking could be played down.

The study is published in the International Journal of Paleopathology. Durham University bioarchaeologist Michaela Binder, who helped reveal the evidence, said: “Calcified arterial plaques in these 3,000-year-old skeletons show that atherosclerosis is both a part of modern lifestyle yet may also be related to inflammation, genetic background and ageing in general.

“Insights gained from archaeological remains like these can really help us to understand the evolution and history of modern health and wellness.”

The two female and three male skeletons were found at Amara West, 466 miles north of Khartoum, and were believed to come from simple farming communities that worked the land by the Nile, in what is now Sudan. Small calcified plaque which would once have lined the arteries was found amongst the skeletal bones. The plaque is known to constrict blood flow and possibly cause strokes or thrombosis.

Further research into the studies suggested that it was possible that smoke was a factor in the development of furred arteries, as locals used large fires to cook and to make pottery, although this would be considered second hand smoke unlike the direct inhalation of a cigarette. Dental health may also source a link, just as gum hygiene can be an indicator of cardiovascular conditions in the modern era.

Co-author Professor Charlotte Roberts, a world-leading palaeopathologist, explained the significance of  the findings of the past month: “This find at Amara West is very rare and emphasises the special nature of this cemetery for preservation of evidence for health conditions.

“Along with the man with cancer, already reported, this contributes to knowledge about the history of cancer and heart issues, and shows how these health conditions have been around for a long time.”

Ms Binder added: “The main relevance of these findings is that it shows us that the factors leading to atherosclerosis are other factors in the environment which may have been around for many thousands of years.”

As further research mounts on the associations surrounding cardiovascular issues, there are still precautious steps that can be taken to help in the prevention of similar health issues. This includes decreasing selecting healthy foods, a low salt diet, regular physical activity, keeping your weight and waist size down and drinking alcohol in moderation. Blood pressure and cholesterol level is also very important; for over 40 year olds cardiovascular health assessments are available at GPs.

How do you think our 3,000 year old ancestors developed furred arteries?


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