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A tumor with teeth was found in the pelvis of an ancient Egyptian woman, along with a ring to protect her from pain

A picture shows ancient tissue with two teeth sticking out of it, next to a ruler placed for scale.
An ancient tumor was uncovered in an Egyptian burial site.A. Deblauwe
  • A tumor with teeth was found in a 3,000-year-old ancient Egyptian burial site.

  • The tumor, a teratoma, is a rare find in archaeology.

  • It was found near a ring that may have been thought to magically protect its wearer from pain.

A rare tumor with teeth has been found in the pelvis of ancient Egyptian woman who died more than 3,000 years ago.

The tumor, known as a teratoma, was discovered alongside a ring that may have been thought to have magical powers to defend against pain.

The discovery in the North Desert Cemetery of Amarna, Egypt, could shed light on how ancient Egyptians dealt with disease, Gretchen R. Dabbs, a professor of bioarchaeology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, told Insider.

A diagram describes teh position of the teratoma and ring in the skeletal remains found in Amarna. A picture of those remains is shown below the diagram. Next to both images, a picture of a tomb is shown.
A picture of the remains, the tomb where they were found, and a diagram describing the position of the teratoma and Bes ring within the remains.Original illustration by M. Wetzel.

The ring may have been used for protection

The remains belonged to a woman who died at the age of between 18 and 21, according to the case study, published in the International Journal of Paleopathology.

We don't know what killed the woman, according to Dabbs, who was the lead author of the study. However, she may have been suffering from pain from the teratoma in her ovaries.

Teratomas are a very rare type of tumor that still occur today. They are made up of a type of cell that can sometimes spontaneously turn into other parts of the body, which means they can sprout hair, teeth, bones, or muscles.

The tumors are mostly benign but can sometimes cause pain and issues with conception. Even today, they often go completely unnoticed.

It is possible this teratoma was bothering the ancient Egyptian woman 3,000 years ago. She was buried with rings on her left hand, which were placed above the tumor. While the placement of the hand is customary for such burials, one of the rings may not be: this one carried the symbols of Bes, a deity commonly associated with childbirth, fertility, and protection.

"The ring may be that she is invoking Bes to try to help her with that," said Dabbs.

A picture shows a ring engraved with a symbol
A picture of a Bes ring, the type of which could be found during the New Kingdom.Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images

Glimpses into medical treatments are rare

Though a teratoma may seem grotesque, for an archaeologist it can be a rare find. Most tumors are made of soft stuff, so unless the body is preserved, they tend to disappear over time. But teratomas' weird bones and teeth can be easily identified even 3,000 years later.

This is only the fifth case of mature ovarian teratoma found on an archaeological site, and the first ancient case found in Africa.

And that's important. Some ancient Egyptian medicine was recorded in written literature, but that only tells us how the elite, who could have access to that kind of high-end treatment, dealt with disease.

This woman, however, was buried in a fairly modest cemetery.

Amarna was a city that was only inhabited for 15 to 20 years to support Pharaoh Akhanathen's worship of the sun god Aten. The city's population was likely not wealthy. Their fairly short stature, for instance, suggests that they must have faced famine on a regular basis, said Dabbs.

Although the woman in the latest study was buried in one of the largest tombs in the cemetery, she was unlikely to have been part of the country's wealthiest.

"Things like this give us little pieces of the puzzle of understanding how did these people live? How was their lived experience affected by medical conditions and trauma? How did they treat injuries? Did they invoke different gods for different types of injuries?" said Dabbs.

Further examinations of the remains may uncover this woman's cause of death, and potentially her identity, she said.

Read the original article on Business Insider