"They were breathing in a lot of smoke and that could have had the same effect as cigarettes," he said.
Previous studies have found evidence of heart disease in Egyptian mummies, but the Lancet paper is the largest survey so far and the first to include mummies elsewhere in the world.
Dr. Frank Ruehli of the University of Zurich, who runs the Swiss Mummy Project, said it was clear atherosclerosis was notably present in antiquity and agreed there might be a genetic predisposition to the disease.
"Humans seem to have a particular vulnerability (to heart disease) and it will be interesting to see what genes are involved," he said. Ruehli was not connected to the study. "This is a piece in the puzzle that may tell us something important about the evolution of disease."
Other experts warned against reading too much into the mummy data.
Dr. Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said calcified arteries could also be caused by other ailments including endocrine disorders and that it was impossible to tell from the CT scans if the types of calcium deposits in the mummies were the kind that would have sparked a heart attack or stroke.
"It's a fascinating study but I'm not sure we can say atherosclerosis is an inevitable part of aging," he said, citing the numerous studies that have showed strong links between lifestyle factors and heart disease.
Researcher Thompson advised people to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible, noting that the risk of heart disease could be reduced with good eating habits, not smoking and exercising. "We don't have to end up like the mummies," he said.