THE SCIENCE AND MYSTERY OF ANCIENT
TABLE OF CONTENTS
2. The Edwin Smith Papyrus
3. The Ebers papyrus
4. Human anatomy and physiology
4.1 Head, heart and thoracic cavity
4.2 Limbs and Injuries
4.3 Disease, Illness and their remedies
5. Medicine and Dispensing
A broken bone, a runny nose, stomachache, toothache, headache or strange lumps and bumps; these are just a few of the ailments that have plagued man for millennia. We are lucky that today we have advanced methods and techniques of dealing with our illnesses and injuries. Lazers, CAT scans and blood tests enable contemporary physicians to accurately diagnose and treat whatever it is ailing us. These physicians have also had years of training and have studied medicine in depth. Imagine not having any of the conveniences of modern medicine; no well-trained doctors to treat and no modern machine to help with diagnosing. What was available were (up until about 150 years ago) “doctors” who were self-taught, usually by dissecting exhumed corpses and\or by trial and error on living patients. One can only think the latter being highly unpleasant.
However, falling ill or being injured in Ancient Egypt might not have been all that bad. The ancient Egyptians referred to medicine as a “necessary art” (Ghalioungi 1973:xi). This name alone tells us that medicine was as essential skill and it was practiced by people who were skilled in the science of medicine. Egyptian medicine was not a pure science though. It also consisted of magical and mythical aspects.
Upon the administering of the medicinal aspect (science), incantations were said (magic) to speed up the healing process. These incantations were directed at the deity responsible (myth). When one takes the magic and myth away and is left with the pure science of Egyptian medicine, it is quite intriguing to note that the remedies used thousands of years ago, are still used today, or form the foundation of modern treatments. For example, in Ancient Egypt, a broken nose would be treated by putting rolls of linen up each nostril in order to hold the nose’s shape during healing. Page 2.
Today, broken noses are treated with an external splint and internal packing. Also, a spinal cord injury, resulting in paralyses, was known to be untreatable, as it is today. A wound to the inner ear, or perforation of the ear drum, also share the same, nearly identical ancient and contemporary treatment; the aforementioned used grease, to keep the ear dry and honey, to prevent infection, while the latter makes use of antibiotic ear drops and stern instructions to keep the ear dry, as it is unlikely that anyone today, would be willing to put grease into their ears. But how did we come to know about these ancient medical treatments?
2. THE EDWIN SMITH PAPYRUS
The Edwin Smith Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian medical text on surgical trauma and has been dated to the 16th-17th dynasties of the Second Intermediate Period, ca. 1600BCE. This papyrus is different to the Ebers papyrus and the London Medical Papyrus in that it deals with medicine in a scientific and rational manner, rather than being a medical text based on magic.
The Papyrus begins by dealing with head injuries and then continues with treatments for neck, arm and torso injuries. Some of the titles include, “Instructions concerning a wound above his eyebrow” (Edwin Smith Papyrus: Case 10) and “Instructions concerning a crushed vertebra of his neck” (Edwin Smith Papyrus: Case 33). In this case, they speak of a man being “unconscious of his two arms and his two legs” which means...
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