Rare tumor with teeth discovered in Egyptian burial from 3,000 years ago

While excavating an ancient Egyptian cemetery, archaeologists made a rare discovery: an ovarian tumor nestled in the pelvis of a woman who died more than three millennia ago. The tumor, a bony mass with two teeth, is the oldest known example of a teratoma, a rare type of tumor that typically occurs in ovaries or testicles.

A teratoma can be benign or malignant, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and it is usually made up of various tissues, such as muscle, hair, teeth or bone. Teratomas can cause pain and swelling and, if they rupture, can lead to infection. In the present day, removal of the mass is the typical treatment.

Tomb 3 of the North Desert Cemetery at Amarna, Egypt. Right: Shaft with the north chamber in the background. Bottom left: Individual 3051 on the far left. Top left: Illustration of the pelvic area of Individual 3051, showing the positions of the teratoma and finger rings. (Image credit: M. Wetzel/Amarna Project)

Only four archaeological examples of teratomas had previously been found — three in Europe and one in Peru. The recent discovery of a teratoma in the New Kingdom period cemetery in Amarna, Egypt, both founded around 1345 B.C., is only the fifth archaeological case published, making it the oldest known example of a teratoma and the first ancient case found in Africa.