Tuberculosis in Dr Granville's mummy: a molecular re-examination of the earliest known Egyptian mummy to be scientifically examined and given a medical diagnosis

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  • HD Donoghue
  • JH Taylor
  • M Spigelman

Colleges, School and Institutes


‘Dr Granville's mummy’ was described to the Royal Society of London in 1825 and was the first ancient Egyptian mummy to be subjected to a scientific autopsy. The remains are those of a woman, Irtyersenu, aged about 50, from the necropolis of Thebes and dated to about 600 BC. Augustus Bozzi Granville (1783–1872), an eminent physician and obstetrician, described many organs still in situ and attributed the cause of death to a tumour of the ovary. However, subsequent histological investigations indicate that the tumour is a benign cystadenoma. Histology of the lungs demonstrated a potentially fatal pulmonary exudate and earlier studies attempted to associate this with particular disease conditions. Palaeopathology and ancient DNA analyses show that tuberculosis was widespread in ancient Egypt, so a systematic search for tuberculosis was made, using specific DNA and lipid biomarker analyses. Clear evidence for Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex DNA was obtained in lung tissue and gall bladder samples, based on nested PCR of the IS6110 locus. Lung and femurs were positive for specific M. tuberculosis complex cell-wall mycolic acids, demonstrated by high-performance liquid chromatography of pyrenebutyric acid–pentafluorobenzyl mycolates. Therefore, tuberculosis is likely to have been the major cause of death of Irtyersenu.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-6
Number of pages6
JournalRoyal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences
Issue number1678
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jan 2010


  • high-performance liquid chromatography, ancient DNA, Granville mummy, ancient Egypt, mycolic acid, Mycobacterium tuberculosis

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