Doctor of Philosophy
Nelson, Andrew J.
Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide today, which has generated much debate in clinical and archaeological literature about the history of neoplastic disease. While some researchers posit that cancer (malignant neoplastic disease) is largely a disease of modern society, increasing evidence from archaeological sources demonstrates the presence of neoplastic disease (benign and malignant) in ancient cultures all over the world.
Mummified human remains have the potential to preserve evidence of both skeletal and soft tissue disease, but previous paleo-oncological research has focused largely on individual case studies and skeletal remains. This doctoral research demonstrates how the radiological examination of mummified remains can contribute to our understanding of neoplastic disease in antiquity and today.
First, an experimental mummification project was conducted to determine the survivability of tumours in mummified remains. Mice that contained human melanoma tumours were mummified in various conditions and recorded radiologically with micro-CT imaging. Tumours were radiologically identifiable in pre- and post-mummification scans and demonstrated consistent changes across specimens.
Next, an analytical method was developed to address the specific challenges of mummified human remains for radiological and paleo-oncological analysis. A checklist – a method that has been increasingly employed in clinical and paleoradiological studies – was created by adapting clinical and paleopathological techniques. It was tested on 15 mummies (11 Egyptian and 4 Peruvian) whose CT scans are stored in the IMPACT Radiological Mummy Database and revised for usability.
Finally, the checklist was applied to 55 mummies (40 Egyptian and 15 Peruvian) from the IMPACT Radiological Mummy Database, forming the first large-scale radiological survey of mummified human remains for the presence of neoplastic disease. The survey identified 13 cases of benign neoplastic disease and one case of a potential soft tissue tumour.
This doctoral research pioneers new methods in paleo-oncology and demonstrates that soft tissue tumours can survive in mummified remains to be identified radiologically. The paleoradiological checklist presented here can be used to guide and standardize analysis of mummified human remains. This research demonstrates the value of large-scale radiological surveys of mummified human remains and contributes to paleo-oncological research by identifying new cases of neoplastic disease.
Summary for Lay Audience
Cancer is a leading cause of death in the world today. Studying the long history of cancer can help us understand how it affected people in the past and how it changed over time. Mummified human remains have the potential to preserve evidence of neoplastic disease and cancer (malignant neoplastic disease) that affected the soft tissues as well as the skeleton. Since most neoplastic disease types affect the soft tissues, mummies can provide a more detailed picture of neoplastic disease in the past than skeletal remains alone. This doctoral research used CT scans and micro-CT scans to analyse mummies for the presence of neoplastic disease. First, mice with human melanoma tumours were experimentally mummified in different conditions and scanned in a micro-CT scanner before and after mummification. The tumours were identifiable in pre- and post-mummification scans, showing that soft tissue tumours can potentially survive in mummified remains.
Next, a checklist for analysing CT scans of mummified human remains for neoplastic disease was created by adapting clinical and archaeological standards. It was designed to guide the researcher through the analysis so that nothing is overlooked and that everything is recorded in a standardized way that other researchers can revisit and use for comparison. After being tested on CT scans of 15 mummies (11 Egyptian and 4 Peruvian), the checklist was revised for improvements.
Finally, the checklist was used to analyse 55 mummies whose scans are stored in the IMPACT Database, 40 from ancient Egypt and 15 from ancient Andean cultures. This analysis identified 13 cases of benign neoplastic disease and one case of a potential soft tissue tumour, demonstrating the importance of large-scale surveys of mummies.
This dissertation contributes to the study of cancer in the ancient world in several ways. It proves that soft tissue tumours can survive in mummified remains to be identified radiologically and adds to our knowledge by identifying several new cases of neoplastic disease. This research pioneers new methods for studying neoplastic disease in the ancient world through experimental mummification and through the new checklist for radiological analysis that can be used by other researchers.
Willoughby, Jennifer L., "Of Mice and Mummies: Experimental Mummification and Radiological Examination of Neoplastic Disease and Cancer in Mummified Remains from Ancient Egypt and Peru" (2022). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 8865.
Available for download on Monday, September 30, 2024