Ebers' papyrus

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This Egyptian papyrus from about 1552 B.C. is the oldest preserved medical document.

Description

This Egyptian papyrus from about 1552 B.C. is the oldest preserved medical document. It measures about 20.23 m in length and 30 cm. in height. More complete than the Edwin Smith papyrus, it is the most important medical papyrus yet recovered. It is written in hieratic script and contains the most complete record of Egyptian medicine known. The 110 pages scroll contains 700 magical formulas and folk remedies meant to cure afflictions ranging from crocodile bite to toenail pain and to rid the house of such pests as flies, rats, and scorpions.

The papyrus contains chapters on intestinal disease, helminthiasis, ophthalmology, dermatology, gynaecology, obstetrics, pregnancy diagnosis, contraception, dentistry, and the surgical treatment of abscesses, tumours, fractures and burns. The ancient Egyptians say that a depressed skull fracture looked like a puncture in a pottery jar.

It also includes a surprisingly accurate description of the circulatory system, noting the existence of blood vessels throughout the body and the hearts function as a centre of the blood supply. It also refers to birth control, diabetes mellitus, trachoma, hookworm and filariasis, as well as forms of arthritis.

The papyrus also contains a short section on psychiatry. It describes a condition of severe despondency that is equivalent to our modern definition of depression.

Some believe the papyrus to be a copy of the even more ancient books of Thoth (3000BC), reputed father of medicine, pharmacy and alchemy. It is now in the University of Leipzig library.

Bibliography

  • G. M. Ebers, L. Stern:
    Papyrus Ebers. Facsimile with a partial translation. 2 volumes. 1875.
  • Papyros Ebers. The first complete translation from the Egyptian, by H. Joachim. Berlin, G. Reimer, 1890.
  • The papyrus Ebers. The greatest Egyptian Medical document.
    Translated by B. Ebbell.
    Copenhagen, Levin & Munksgaard, 1937.
    The best English translation.

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