Senior author Caleb Finch, a professor at the University of Southern California's Davis School of Gerontology, and Gregory Thomas of Long Beach Memorial, performed CT scans of 137 mummies from across four continents and found arterial plaque in every single population studied.
The mummies ranged from pre-agricultural hunter-gatherers in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska to the ancient Puebloans of southwestern United States.
The findings provide an important twist to the understanding of atherosclerotic vascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the developed world, the researchers said.
The study, published in The Lancet, found probable or definite atherosclerosis in 34 percent of the mummies studied, with calcification of arteries more pronounced in the mummies that were older at time of death.
"This is not a disease only of modern circumstance but a basic feature of human aging in all populations," Finch said in a statement. "Turns out even a Bronze Age guy from 5,000 years ago had calcified, carotid arteries."
Thomas, medical director of the Memorial Care Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Memorial, said the research showed everyone is at risk for atherosclerosis -- the disease that causes heart attacks and strokes -- all races, diets and lifestyles.
"Because of this we all need to be cautious of our diet, weight and exercise to minimize its impact," Thomas said. "The data gathered about individuals from the pre-historic cultures of ancient Peru and the Native Americans living along the Colorado River and the Unangan of the Aleutian Islands is forcing us to think outside the box and look for other factors that may cause heart disease."