A common image of ancient Egyptian royalty depicts an opulent lifestyle of palatial comforts and daily feasts. But new research suggests that high government officials typically suffered from malnutrition and infectious diseases, and that most died before they were 30 years old.
Anthropologists from the Universities of Jaen and Granada analyzed the bones of more than 200 mummies found in a 4,000-year-old tomb near the present-day city of Aswan.
They conclude that the population in general, as well as the highest social class, lived on the edge of survival. Infant mortality rates were extremely high. The ancient Egyptians faced chronic hunger and suffered severe gastrointestinal disorders due to drinking polluted water from the Nile River. Many of the mummies were young adults between 17 and 25 years of age.
The researchers also found evidence of interbreeding with the black peoples to the south, in what is now Sudan. Inscriptions describe several journeys one of the governors made to central Africa, and note his return from one trip with a pygmy, in what might be the oldest reference to that uniquely short-statured people.
The anthropologists call the necropolis where the tomb is located, Qubbet el-Hawa, one of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt.