MEDICAL PAPYRI the first medical guide from ancient Egypt

Oct 2, 2010

MEDICAL PAPYRI the first medical guide from ancient Egypt

The Edwin Smith Papyrus

Some kind of medicine was already practiced in Egypt in the earliest prehistoric days, (the use of malachite as an eye paint in the Badarian age – around 4000 BC, and the same use of galena in predynastic times). The oldest yet discovered papyrus is the “Kahun Gynecology Papyrus”, dating back to 1825 BC, during the reign of Amnemhat III. It describes methods of diagnosing pregnancy and the sex of the fetus, toothache during pregnancy, diseases of women, as well as feminine drugs, pastes and vaginal applications.

The most famous and elaborate papyri are the “Edwin Smith Papyrus” (1600 BC) and the “Ebers papyrus”, which refers to King Den (1st dynasty, 3000 BC), suggesting a much earlier origin.

The Edwin Smith Papyrus.

“The book of. was found in writings under the two feet of Anubis in Letopolis and was brought to the majesty of the king of Upper and Lower Egypt Den.”

The Edwin Smith Papyrus is 5 meters long, and is chiefly concerned with surgery. It described 48 surgical cases of wounds of the head, neck, shoulders, breast and chest. Unfortunately, the scribe who copied it did not proceed further from the thorax, and it ended abruptly in the middle of a sentence. The papyrus listed the manifestations, followed by prescriptions to every individual case. It included a vast experience in fractures that can only be acquired at a site where accidents were extremely numerous, as during the building of the pyramids. The Ebers Papyrus is a huge roll of more than 20 meters long and 30 cm wide. It is chiefly an internal medicine reference, as well as diseases of the eye, skin, extremities, gynecology and some surgical diseases. Anatomical and physiological terminology are also included. For treatment of those diseases, 877 recipes and 400 drugs were described.


THE CAUSES OF DISEASES, ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY:

The human body was believed to be born in a healthy state, and could not fall ill or die except through the influence of a foreign agent. In case of wounds or intestinal worms, that agent was visible and the treatment prescribed was hence rational. As they were not aware of microbiology, internal diseases were thought to be due to an occult force attributed to evil gods, a divine punishment or magical procedures. The physician was obliged to neutralize this evil before turning into actual treatment.

Despite such limitation in their knowledge of the causes of diseases, their study of anatomy and physiology was so advanced. No doubt, this was due to their embalming of the dead, when other nations at that time used to burn them. For instance, the process of emptying the skull through the nostrils by means of a long hook could have never been devised without a good knowledge of the anatomy of the head and brain. In our modern medicine, many brain surgeries are nowadays performed through this route. They obtained a good knowledge of the meninges, the cerebrospinal fluid, and the twitches and pulsations, and were aware that the brain was the seat of the body control.

"If thou examines a man having a gaping wound in his head penetrating to the bone, smashing his skull, and rending open the brain of his skull, thou shouldst palpate his wound. Shouldst thou find that smash which in his skull like those corrugations which form in molten copper, and something therein throbbing and fluttering under thy fingers, like the weak place of an infant's crown before it becomes whole- when it has happened there is no throbbing and fluttering under thy fingers until the brain of his skull is rent open and he discharges blood from both his nostrils, and he suffers with stiffness in his neck."

The Ebers Papyrus describes the position of the heart precisely, and illustrates some of its disorders, as dropped beats. Egyptian physicians recognized the heart as the source of blood vessels. They were aware that the blood vessels were hollow, having a mouth which opens to absorb medications, eliminate waste elements, distribute air and body secretions and excretions, in a confusion between blood vessels and other passages, as ureters.

The physiology of blood circulation was demonstrated in the Edwin Smith Papyrus, together with the its relation to the heart, as well as awareness of the importance of the pulse.

“It is there that the heart speaks”, and
“It is there that every physician and every priest of Sekhmet places his fingers …….… he feels something from the heart”.

They also knew that blood supply runs from the heart to all organs of the body.

“There are vessels in him for every part of the body”.
“It speaks forth in the vessels of every body part”.

However, their inability to distinguish between blood vessels, nerves, tendons and channels has limited their full understanding of the physiology of circulation.

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