Egyptian Mummies Show Signs of Air Pollution in Antiquity

Examinations of Egyptian mummies show that they were exposed to heavy air pollution while still alive. The study, conducted on mummies of various ages and across a spectrum of social classes, demonstrates that Egyptians were exposed to heavy air pollution.

Interestingly, the levels of air pollution in ancient Egypt were not much lower than the are in the modern world. Exposure to such particulates would have increased rates of lung disease – infection, pneumonia, cancer, and so forth.

Archaeologists are planning to continue their studies on ancient air pollution and focus especially on the sources. You can read more about this study on MSNBC.

6 thoughts on “Egyptian Mummies Show Signs of Air Pollution in Antiquity

  1. Jim Wheeler


    Interesting post.

    What is most puzzling to me about finding lung pollution in ancient Egyptians that is similar to ours is why it should be puzzling. I would have been surprised if it had not. After all, they cooked and heated by burning wood and similar materials.

    But, applying Occam’s razor to the puzzle, here’s my speculation: no evacuation fans and, hence, poor ventilation. QED


    1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

      Yes, poor ventilation for charcoal products, working with toxic substances (i.e. stoneworkers, ore smelting, etc) with no masks, and the pollution created by large numbers of people living together. Lungs seem to be especially sensitive – probably because they are always working with little filter in place.
      Thanks for the thoughts and the comment!

  2. Charles Mount

    The emissions from cooking fires probably explains why some prehsitoric settlements had separate structures for cooking or the cooking was done in the open air.


    1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

      Completely highlights my biased towards state-level societies. Thanks for the solid point!

  3. Rodrigo Amaral

    Hi Jennifer
    Maybe i’m being naive but i’ll give it a shot. I reed Graham Hankok’s book “Fingerprints of the Gods” where he states that, before our “civilized history”, there was other history, with a lost civilization almost as advanced as we are today. This was until about 12000 years ago. Polar shifting wiped out almost completely that civilization. Earthquakes, tsunamis, drafts, floods, volcano eruptions, you name it, did the “dirty work”. If that was a global scale event, couldn’t some of that pollution still be in the air? Or in food chains? It would be interesting to know the composition of the mummies pollution

    1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

      I am really not familiar with the work or the theory. Yes, polution from past geological events can remain in the environment for centuries – we still find elements of Krakatoa today, but not for thousands of years (for example, the last great eruption of Vesuvius). Also, most notably, is that these remnments are from human produced pollutants – so not naturally occuring.


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