Wounds of the
head, neck, shoulders and chest were described in the "Edwin
Smith Papyrus", held at the New York Academy of Sciences.
The Edwin Smith Papyrus is the oldest known text referring to
treatments of injuries. The 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.
From 'Case 10', describing
a deep laceration above the eyebrow:
EXAMINATION : If thou examinest a man having
a wound in the top of his eyebrow , penetrating to the bone, shouldst
palpate his wound , (and) draw together for him the gash with
DIAGNOSIS : Thou shouldst say concerning him
: "One having a wound in his eyebrow . An ailment which I
TREATMENT : Now after thou hast stitched it ,
thou shouldst bind fresh meat upon it the first day . If thou
findest that the stitching of this wound is loose , thou shouldst
draw (it) together for him with two strips (of plaster) , and
thou shouldst treat it with grease and honey every day until he
Compare this with modern
hemostatic agents such as tissue factor, topical fibrinogen &
thrombin). The Egyptians used honey when applying dressings to
wounds (the hyperosmolar and hygroscopic character of honey aid
in host defences against infection). Their bandages were made
From 'Case 2', describing a deep scalp wound :
DIAGNOSIS: Thou shouldst say regarding him :
"One having a gaping wound in his head . An ailment which
I will treat."
TREATMENT: Thou shouldst bind fresh meat upon
it the first day thou shouldst apply for him two strips of linen
; and treat afterward with grease , honey , (and) lint every day
until he recovers.
If thou examinest a man having a break in the chamber of his nose,
(and) thou findest nose bent, while his face is disfigured, (and)
the swelling which is over it is protruding .
DIAGNOSIS: Thou shouldst say concerning him :
"One having a break in the chamber of his nose . An ailment
which I will treat ."
TREATMENT: Thou shouldst force it to fall in
, so that it is lying in its place , (and) clean out for him the
interior of both his nostrils with two swabs of linen until every
worm of blood which coagulates in the inside of his two nostrils
comes forth. Now afterward thou shouldst place two plugs of linen
saturated with greases and put into his two nostrils . Thou shouldst
place for him two stiff rolls of linen , bound on . Thou shouldst
treat him afterward with grease , honey , (and) hint every day
until he recovers .
The ancient Egyptians recognized the futility of treating
dislocated cervical vertebrae with associated quadriplegia:
If thou examinest a man having a dislocation in a vertebra of
his neck, shouldst thou find him unconscious of his two arms (and)
his two legs on account of it , while his phallus is erected on
account of it, (and) urine drop from his member without his knowing
it; his flesh has receives wind ; his two eyes are blood-shot
; it is a dislocation of a vertebra of his neck extending to his
back-bone which causes him to be unconscious of his two arms (and)
his two legs. If , however , the middle vertebra of his neck is
dislocated , it is an emissio seminis which befalls his phallus
Thou shouldst say concerning him : "One having a dislocation
in a vertebra of his neck , while he is unconscious of his two
legs and his two arms, and his urine dribbles. An ailment not
to be treated..
Atta HM. Edwin Smith Surgical
Papyrus: the oldest known surgical treatise. Am Surg.
A description of the Edwin
Smith papyrus' contents is on-line at www.eoa.org.eg/oldest.htm
Information on other Egyptian medical texts can be found here:
contributor: Barry Armstrong
In a painting in the tomb of Ipuy, the
sculptor of Ramses II depicts a physician reducing a dislocated
shoulder, using a similar technique Kocher described in 1870,
some 3200 years later.
contributor: Barry Armstrong