Egyptians lived like gods but paid with their health
THE BANQUETS offered by high priests to appease the gods of Ancient Egypt may have been welcomed as a perk of the job but they also increased their chances of cardiovascular disease and early death, research suggests.
The priests, a powerful bureaucracy under the pharaohs, would place vast plates of roast fowl and copious quantities of wine and beer before a god's statue in a rite repeated three times each day. Then the food was divided up among the priesthood and taken home from the temple to be shared with their families.
Egyptologists and scientists at the University of Manchester have disclosed the cost of keeping the gods happy. By combining translations of hieroglyphic inscriptions on temple walls with analysis of mummified remains, they have assessed the proliferation of atherosclerosis -- the build-up of fat and calcium in the arteries -- among the well-to-do.
The findings show that cardiovascular disease affected the privileged of Ancient Egypt long before fried food and a sedentary life made heart attacks and strokes a modern killer.
Rosalie David, of the university's Centre for Biomedical Egyptology, said that it was a telling message: "Live like a god and you will pay with your health."
The Manchester team looked at CT scans of 22 mummies of Egyptians of high social status. In 16 cases where hearts or arteries could be identified, nine showed evidence of vascular calcification. In the rest of the population, such diseases are thought to have been relatively rare -- the simple peasant diet being cereals and vegetables.
Professor Tony Heagerty, of the university's cardiovascular research group, said: "There is unequivocal evidence that atherosclerosis is a disease of ancient times, induced by diet, and that the epidemic of atherosclerosis which began in the 20th century is nothing more than history revisiting us."
The new translations of the hieroglyphic inscriptions reveals a menu rich in beef, wild fowl, bread, fruit, vegetables, cake, wine and beer. Many of the items, not least goose, were laden with saturated fats. The bread was often enriched with fat, milk and eggs and the cakes were typically baked with animal fat or oil. Salt was used as a preservative.
The job of the priests was to perform rituals on behalf of the king: to feed, cleanse and dress the god in his temple sanctuary.