As much as we complain about our commutes, it doesn�t ruin our joints like it did the ancient Egyptian workers who toiled at the famous royal tombs. They had to cross the steep Theban Hills to reach the royal necropolis at the Valley of the Kings. Recent findings by Egyptologists show these workers developed osteoarthritis, or OA, in their ankles and knees.
About 3,500 years ago, royal tomb workers lived in Deir el-Medina in what is now modern Luxor. Researchers recently sorted out their bones and looked for signs of OA, which is the wear and tear that comes from overuse.
OA involves the entire joint, including the cartilage that cushion joints, deterioration of the tendons and ligaments, as well as inflammation of the synovium, which is the joint lining. The workers� bones reveal higher rates of OA in ankles and knees than those of non-laborers. But many of the artisans� work involved digging and painting, so the question became why they had OA of the knees and ankles.
Ancient records tracked artisans� work attendance and show they walked to work and stayed the week then trekked home. The journey was not only steep from their village to work, but involved a hundred yard drop from their work huts to the tombs. Commuting 160 days a year over 35 years can catch up with you.
Contrarily, CT scans of Egyptian mummies, the elite of that society, also revealed signs of OA but more often in their spines. This study is unique in that it tells us about the life of ancient Egyptians who were not royalty.
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