The well-preserved mummy, which was discovered in Ecuador, has bones containing traces of arthritis.
French pathologist Dr Philippe Charlier, who is studying the mummy, said: “The mummy of Guano may be the link missing that will allow us to understand how this disease, which was originally American, then became a global disease by hybridisation, by the confrontation between two worlds.”
Rheumatoid arthritis was first found in America before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.
The body is thought to be the guardian of then convent from 1560 to 1565 and around 90 years old when he died.
The mummy was found in a jar between the walls of the convent Asunsion de Guano in Ecuador next to a mummified rat.
It was kept in a cold and dry environment so it was well preserved and kept out of reach from flies and larvae.
It was found following an earthquake in 1949 that caused the walls of the church to fall down.
Dr Charlier also said: “This is an extremely important mummy for the history of diseases.” Egypt: 3,000-year-old female mummy discovered
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Arthritis is a term often used to mean any disorder that affects joints. Symptoms generally include joint pain and stiffness.
Across the world, 350 million suffer from the condition which can be debilitating.
Last year a 16th-Century child Mummy had the oldest known case of Hepatitis B.
At the time, science author Edward Holmes said: “The more we understand about the behaviour of past pandemics and outbreaks, the greater our understanding of how modern pathogens might work and spread, and this information will ultimately help in their control.”
A mummy is a deceased human or an animal whose skin and organs have been preserved by either intentional or accidental exposure to chemicals, extreme cold, very low humidity, or lack of air.
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