Man Who Died of Constipation Over 1,000 Years Ago Ate Only Grasshoppers to Fight Tropical Disease

Man Who Died of Constipation Over 1,000 Years Ago Ate Only Grasshoppers to Fight Tropical Disease

Man Who Died of Constipation Over 1,000 Years Ago Ate Only Grasshoppers to Fight Tropical Disease

A native American who lived between 1,000 and 1,400 years ago in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands of Texas had one of the worst cases of constipation in the medicine annals.

For the last two to three months of his life in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands of modern-day Texas (pictured)

Due to infection, the man’s colon swelled to six times its usual size, rendering it difficult to eat normal food properly.

Ultimately, this horrible disease, known as ‘megacolon’, killed the man. Centuries later, his remains, mummified by the arid conditions, were discovered in a rock shelter near the junction of the Rio Grande and Pecos Rivers in South Texas.

But this story also has a positive side to it. Upon analyzing the mummy, scientists have found that during the last two to three months of his life, the man ate a diet of grasshoppers whose legs had been removed.

The naturally mummified adult male from the late archaic period of Lower Pecos Canyonlands of South Texas had a hugely inflated colon

Since his condition must have made it almost impossible to walk and procure food for himself, it’s likely that the man was fed by somebody else, perhaps family or other members of his community. It’s one of the earliest bits of evidence of hospice care.

“They were taking off the legs,” said Karl Reinhard, professor in the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

“So they were giving him mostly the fluid-rich body — the squishable part of the grasshopper. In addition to being high in protein, it was pretty high in moisture. So it would have been easier for him to eat in the early stages of his megacolon experience.”

The Skiles mummy from Texas, named after Guy Skiles, the person who first discovered it in 1937, had been stored in various private and public museums.

More recently, in 2003, Reinhard and colleagues published a study in which they reported that the mummy contained 1,2 kilograms (2.6 pounds) of feces in its huge colon, along with a large quantity of unprocessed food.

This led the researchers to conclude that the unfortunate man was infected with the parasite-borne Chagas disease and suffered from severe malnourishment due to the fact that his body was unable to process food.

A segment of the man’s colon, which swelled to six times its normal diameter and is described by scientists as a ‘megacolon’

In their new study, Reinhard’s team revisited the Skiles mummy, this time using scanning electron microscopy, which offered new clues about the man’s diet during his twilight days.

The researchers examined phytoliths, tiny plant tissue structures that remain intact even after the rest of the plant decays and which are so robust they normally survive the rough, bumpy ride through the human intestinal tract. But in the case of this mummy, the researchers were astonished by the phytoliths found inside it.

“The phytoliths were split open, crushed. And that means there was incredible pressure that was exerted on a microscopic level in this guy’s intestinal system, which highlights even more the pathology that was exhibited here,” Reinhard said.

“I think this is unique in the annals of pathology — this level of intestinal blockage and the pressure that’s associated with it.”

Microscopy of minuscule plant remnants, pollen and animal remains, including a mammal hair (center), extracted from the intestinal tract of a mummy found in Arizona’s Ventana Cave

This most recent analysis of the Skiles mummy will appear in a forthcoming chapter of “The Handbook of Mummy Studies,” which also includes best practices for preparing and analyzing the contents of mummified intestines.

In the same handbook, Reinhard also described two other mummies who also received special care during their last days.

One of the mummies belongs to a 5 to 6-year-old child who was buried between 500 and 1,000 years ago in Arizona’s Ventana Cave by the Hohokam people. The third mummy, of an even younger child, was buried roughly 750 years ago in southern Utah.

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