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March 26, 2016
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1 Introduction
Edwin Smith Papyrus



The Edwin Smith Papyrus is an Ancient Egyptian medical text on surgical trauma. It dates to Dynasties 16-17 of the Second Intermediate Period in Ancient Egypt, ca. 1600 BCE. The Edwin Smith Papyrus is unique among the medical papyri that survive today. While other papyri, such as the Ebers Papyrus and London Medical Papyrus, are medical texts based in magic, the Edwin Smith Papyrus presents a rational and scientific approach to medicine in Ancient Egypt .

The Edwin Smith papyrus is 4.68 m in length, divided into 12 sheets. The recto, the front side, is 377 lines long, while the verso, the backside, is 92 lines long. Aside from the fragmentary first sheet of the papyrus, the remainder of the papyrus is fairly intact . It is written in hieratic, the Egyptian cursive form of hieroglyphs, in black and red ink. The vast majority of the papyrus is concerned with trauma and surgery. On the recto side, there are 48 cases of injury. Each case details the type of the injury, examination of the patient, diagnosis and prognosis, and treatment . The verso side comprises of eight magic spells and five prescriptions. The spells of the verso side and two incidents in Case 8 and Case 9 are the exceptions to the practical nature of this medical text .

Authorship of the Edwin Smith Papyrus is debated. The majority of the papyrus was written by one scribe, with only small sections written by a second scribe. The papyrus ends abruptly in the middle of a line, without any inclusion of an author . It is believed that the papyrus is based upon an earlier text from the Old Kingdom. Form and commentary included in the papyrus give evidence to the existence of an earlier document. The text is attributed by some to Imhotep, an architect, high priest, and physician of the Old Kingdom, 3000-2500 BCE, .

The rational and practical nature of the papyrus is illustrated in the 48 cases. The papyrus begins by addressing injuries to the head, and continues with treatments for injuries to neck, arms and torso . The title of each case details the nature of trauma, such as ???Practices for a gaping wound in his head, which has penetrated to the bone and split the skull??? . Next, the examination provides furthers details of the trauma. The diagnosis and prognosis follow the examination. Last, treatment options are offered. In many of the cases, explanations of trauma are included to provide further clarity .

Among the treatments are closing wounds with sutures (for wounds of the lip, throat, and shoulder) , preventing and curing infection with honey, and stopping bleeding with raw meat . Immobilization is advised for head and spinal cord injuries, as well as other lower body fractures. The papyrus also describes anatomical observations. It contains the first known descriptions of the cranial sutures, the meninges, the external surface of the brain, the cerebrospinal fluid, and the intracranial pulsations . The procedures of this papyrus demonstrate an Egyptain level of knowledge of medicines that surpassed that of Hippocrates, who lived 1000 years later. Due to its practical nature and the types of trauma investigated, it is believed that the papyrus served as a textbook for the trauma that resulted from military battles .

The Edwin Smith Papyrus dates to Dynasties 16-17 of the Second Intermediate Period. Egypt was ruled from Thebes during this time and the papyrus is likely to have originated from there . Edwin Smith purchased in Luxor, Egypt in 1862, from an Egyptian dealer named Mustafa Agha . The papyrus was in the possession of Smith until his death, when his daughter donated the papyrus to New York Historical Society. From 1938 through 1948, the papyrus was at the Brooklyn Museum. In 1948, the New York Historical Society and the Brooklyn Museum presented the papyrus to the New York Academy of Medicine, where it remains today . The first translation of the papyrus was by James Henry Breasted, with the medical advice of Dr. Arno B Luckhardt, in 1930 Breasted???s translation changed the understanding of the history of medicine. It demonstrates that Egyptian medical care was not limited to the magical modes of healing demonstrated in other Egyptian medical sources. Rational, scientific practices were used, constructed through observation and examination .

From 2005 through 2006, the Edwin Smith Papyrus was on exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. James P. Allen, curator of Egyptian Art at the museum, published a new translation of the work, coincident with the exhibition . This was the first complete English translation since Breasted???s in 1930. This translation offers a more modern understanding of hieratic and medicine.

  • Ancient Egyptian medicine

  • Medical literature

  • "Academy Papyrus to be Exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art". The New York Academy of Medicine. 2005-07-27. http://www.nyam.org/news/2493.html. Retrieved 2008-08-12.

  • Allen,James P. "The Art of Medicine in Ancient Egypt". New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005.

  • Breasted,James Henry. "The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus: published in facsimile and hieroglyphic transliteration with translation and commentary in two volumes". University of Chicago Oriental Institute publications, v. 3-4. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

  • Ghalioungui,Paul. "Magic and Medical Science in Ancient Egypt". New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc ,1965.

  • Nunn, John F. "Ancient Egyptian Medicine". Normal, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

  • Sullivan, R. "The Identity and Work of the Ancient Egyptian Surgeon". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 89, no 8 (1996): 467-73.

  • Wilkins, Robert H. (1964-03). Neurosurgical Classic-XVII Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus. Article reprinted with author permission from Journal of Neurosurgery, March 1964, pp 240-244. Cybermuseum of Neurosurgery: translation of 13 cases pertaining to injuries of the skull and spinal cord, with commentary. Retrieved from http://www.neurosurgery.org/cybermuseum/pre20th/epapyrus.html.

  • Turning the Pages : a virtual reconstruction of the Edwin Smith Papyrus. From the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

  • Ancient Egyptian Alchemy and Science , contains a detailed description of the manuscript.

  • The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus : translation of all 48 cases from the papyrus. An unacknowledged reprint of the translations from Breasted 1930.

  • Medicine In Ancient Egypt

  • Cybermuseum of Neurosurgery : translation of 13 cases pertaining to injuries of the skull and spinal cord, with commentary.

  • History of Medicine : lists other papyruses.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Edwin Smith Papyrus".

Last Modified:   2010-11-25

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