Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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The Eyes Have It Volume 54 Number 3, May/June 2001
by Kristin M. Romey

[image] Scientists looked at corneal reflections (the white flecks of paint in the eyes) to determine the direction that the subject's eyes pointed--a factor in diagnosing disease. (Courtesy O. Appenzeller) [LARGER IMAGE]

While conceding that the speciality of clinical paleoneurology is "almost non-existent," an international neuroscience research group has made a brave first step into the ancient world with an analysis of about 200 Roman mummy portraits. In a report published in Britain's Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, the researchers looked for evidence of neurological disease in the portraits, including inward-pointing eyes, associated with abnormalities of the autonomic nervous system, and atrophied facial tissue. In one case, a CT scan of a skull associated with a portrait corroborated an initial diagnosis based solely upon the portrait. The report's conclusion? "Clinical paleoneurology is possible in the absence of a living nervous system."

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America