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Getting Under a Mummy’s Skin

Years ago, when her young son was going through a mummy phase, Eve Lowenstein wound up reading a lot of mummy books. A dermatologist and one-time molecular biologist, she was soon hooked on paleopathology, the study of ancient diseases. Her obsession would long outlive her son’s.

At first, just curious, she sat down to do a quick scan of the scientific literature to find out what mummies had revealed about skin diseases. “It turned into a year-and-a-half project,” says Lowenstein, who practices dermatology in Brooklyn, New York. She found mummy studies of more than 100 skin-related diseases, from leprosy and scurvy to cancer and diabetic foot ulcers. In 2004, she published a comprehensive review of these so-called ‘paleodermatoses‘ — several of which, she discovered, had been misdiagnosed.