I came across an interesting story that would probably appeal mainly to pathologists -- naturally preserved Hungarian mummies from 1731 to 1838 are providing insights into the human immune system and the history of tuberculosis (see: Hungary: 18th century mummies aid medical research). Below is an excerpt from the story:
Resting in cardboard boxes in long rows of cabinets on the top floor of the Hungarian Natural History Museum in Budapest, the 265 mummies are helping scientists find new ways to treat tuberculosis. Buried between 1731 and 1838 in the crypt of a Dominican church in the northern Hungarian town of Vac, the naturally-preserved mummies were forgotten for decades and discovered in 1994 during the church's renovation. They had lain in gracefully-painted pinewood coffins, some decorated with pictures of skulls. The mummification process happened thanks to the favorable microclimate inside the crypt, including low temperatures and relatively constant humidity and air pressure....Reflecting a wide sample of Vac residents, the mummies include three nuns, 30 priests, the wife and child of the local postmaster, surgeons, the founder of the Vac hospital and first director of the town's school for the deaf. "What was probably the most exciting and most comprehensive study was the one about tuberculosis," said [a museum official]. "In some of the individuals, the traces of the mutations on the bones caused by tuberculosis are evident to the naked eye."....Eighty-nine percent of the mummies, ranging in age from newborns to over 65, had at one point been infected with tuberculosis and around 35 percent were suffering from the disease at the time of death. The strains of tuberculosis found in the people buried in Vac offer a unique chance to study the pathogens from a time before the development of antibiotics and prior to the spread of the Industrial Revolution....The discovery of penicillin and subsequent development of other antibiotics in the 20th century virtually wiped out diseases such as tuberculosis that were once major killers in developed countries. But the overuse and misuse of drugs have allowed old bugs to fight back and eventually overpower antibiotics, rendering some useless. "We can say that 89 percent of these people were infected by tuberculosis or its pathogen during their lifetime," [the official] said. "Their immune system was likely better than ours. If we could locate some gene sections and discover why they were more resistant to tuberculosis than us, then that could be of great assistance to modern medical science."
The fact that 18th century Hungarians had different immune systems than contemporary Americans should come as no surprise. The population lacked antibiotics and food and hygiene standards were obviously far different than ours. Childhood mortality was also high so the less immunologically robust individuals did not survive through childhood. I suspect also that the strains of TB that they were exposed to may have been different. Nevertheless, I was surprised by the statement tat 89% of the mummies showed some evidence of TB infections. It was more of a chronic disease in this population than an infectious disease. The story reminded me of the interesting work relating to CT scans of Egyptian mummies for evidence of disease. Here's an eerie video of a CT scan of such a mummie (see: Egyptian mummy CT scan video, Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History)