Trauma care, surgery and remedies in ancient Egypt: a reassessment

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Abstract





This paper considers the variety of treatments that were available in ancient Egypt to manage traumatic injuries and attempts to determine how successful these therapies may have been. Much of the evidence that is available is derived from the medical papyri and although there have been a number of translations of these texts; uncertainties still prevent a full understanding of these ancient documents.

The composition of many of the compounds and medicaments listed in the papyri are uncertain. An additional problem is that some of the ancient materials did not have the same composition as their modern equivalents. Although some of the materials have proven pharmacological effects, a number have often been dismissed as having no therapeutic value. However, a re-assessment indicates that some of these constituents may have some benefits. Ostrich egg utilised in the treatment of a fractured skull is suggested to have been used since the shell of the egg equates to a skull, a characteristic that seemed desirable. Recent research suggests that eggshell is useful as a bone substitute in non-weight-bearing areas.

The primary source of evidence for treatment therapies is the Edwin Smith Papyrus, but this treatise which presents cases of trauma commencing with the skull and descending downwards terminates at the mid-thorax region. Areas of treatment such as amputations and sustained traction for fractures of the femur are not discussed. However, palaeopathological evidence is sometimes able to supply information concerning such treatments. Palliative care as well as innovations and adaptations in treatment are other areas that will all be explored.






Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMummies, Magic and Medicine in Ancient Egypt
EditorsCampbell Price, Roger Forshaw, Andrew Chamberlain, Paul Nicholson
Place of PublicationManchester
PublisherManchester University Press
Pages124-141
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)978 1 7849 9243 9
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2016