The Art of Ancient Egyptian Medicine

Throughout history, there have been many diverse beliefs associating ailments and death with witchcraft, demons, astral influence, or the will of the gods. Although the Egyptians believed that the reason for internal illness was the evil gods punishing the body, but they also believed that man could treat external problems. In addition to their supernatural ideations, the ancient Egyptians also provided modern historians with a great deal of evidence that they had a working knowledge of human anatomy and extensive surgical skills for their time.

Inscriptions from the Rosetta Stone, an ancient artifact, led to documentation of the Papyri. This script gave extensive descriptions of medical practices and surgeries performed by the Egyptians. These documents include the Ebers Papyrus, the Edwin Smith Papyrus, and the Hearst Papyrus. Many of these experimental practices have contributed greatly to the field of medicine that we know today. To begin with, the Egyptians did believe that wounds and injuries with external causes could be healed could be healed by the hands of physicians, but when there was no obvious reason for an ailment, the physicians would turn to the gods.

These physicians were usually priests of Sekhmet or Selket who would turn to the spirits and magic to heal the unwell, which probably resulted in a “placebo effect. ” Along with their beliefs in divine healing, the Egyptians were regarded as being one of the first documented groups in history to have practicing medical Porterfield 2 physicians. While Egyptians did not conduct major surgery as performed today, these physicians had a great deal of knowledge about the human anatomy for their time, and they made great progress in surgical knowledge.

To name only a few ancient documented medical procedures, Egyptian physicians actually excised organs through a small incision made to the groin, and they inserted hooks through a nostril, and broke the bones in the skull to remove the brain. They also knew how to treat dislocated bones and how to remove cysts. With the translation of the Rosetta Stone in 1822, an ancient artifact created in 196 BC, historians discovered and were able to decipher several sets of inscriptions and papyri (medical documents) from that era.

The Ebers Papyrus, the Edwin Smith Papyrus, and the Hearst Papyrus provided extensive details about Egyptian medicine and surgeries. Three different scripts were used in the writings of the Rosetta Stone. The first was hieroglyphic, which was primarily used for important or religious documents, the second was demotic (the common script of Egypt), and the third was Greek, which was the common language of Egypt at that time. This documentation was written in all three languages so that priests, government officials, and rulers could read them.

Thought to be the author of the Papyri and the first Egyptian physician known by name, Imhotep, who served under king Pharaoh and high priest of the sun god Ra at Helopolis, was known for his magical thinking. Because the Egyptians believed that gods and demons were the source of internal illness, Imhotep and other healers turned to the gods and used sorcery and potions to “restore” health. According to the article, Ancient Egyptian Medicine, at , “The Ebers Papyrus is full of incantations and foul applications meant to turn away disease causing demons, and also includes Porterfield 3.

877 prescriptions. ” These documents date back to 1550 BC. A great deal of other information comes from inscriptions and pictures on the walls of archaic Egyptian tombs. Another set of documents, the Edwin Smith Papyrus, is the only surviving copy of text describing trauma and surgery of the historic Egyptian world. This extensive record was written in hieratic script around the 16th century BC; it lists and describes 48 traumatic injury cases including physical examination, treatments and prognoses. The entire translation of this manuscript can be found online at .

Amazingly, the anatomical observations in the Edwin Smith Papyrus describe cranial sutures, the meninges, the external surface of the brain, cerebrospinal fluid, and the intracranial pulsations. Vital organs were recognized, and the blood vessels were also acknowledged to be linked to the heart. Even more astounding, is the fact that some of these procedures (although much more advanced) are still in effect today. In the spring of 1901, The Hearst Medical Papyrus was a roll of papyrus that was brought to the camp of the Hearst Egyptian expedition.

Although there are some doubts about the authenticity of the Hearst Papyrus, the main subjects of this manuscript deal with treatments for problems of the urinary system, blood, hair, and bites. As has been noted and aside from all the supernatural beliefs of ancient Greek physicians, these historic healers had great knowledge of human anatomy and physiology. Through the translation of the Rosetta Stone, extensive documentation exists today proving that the ancient Greeks performed many advanced procedures, surgeries, and treatments that are much like and probably have contributed greatly to modern day medicine as we know it today.

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