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Health and Medicine in Ancient Egypt: Magic and Science

Paula Alexandra da Silva Veiga
1.State of the art…..…………………………………...12
2.The investigation of pathology patterns through
mummified human remains and art depictions from
ancient Egypt…………………………………………..19
3.Specific existing bibliography some important
1. Chapter: Sources of Information; Medical and Magical
1.1. Kahun UC 32057…………………………..33
1.2. Edwin Smith………………..........................34
1.3. Ebers……………………………………….35
1.4. Hearst………………………………………37
1.5. London Papyrus BM 10059……..................38
1.6. Berlin 13602; Berlin 3027; Berlin
1.7. Chester Beatty……………………………...39
1.8. Carlsberg VIII……………..........................40
1.9. Brooklyn 47218-2, 47218.138, 47218.48 e
1.10. Other papyri.……………………………...41
Ramesseum III, IV e V e VIII a XVI
Berlin 3033 (Westcar)
IFAO Deir el-Medina 1, Cairo
Leiden I 343-I 345
Schøyen MS 2634/3
Yale CtYBR 2081
Rubensohn (Berlin 10456)
Vindob 3873
Vindob 6257 (Crocodilópolis)
Turin 54003
Anonymus Londinensis
Louvre E 4864
IFAO Coptic Chassinat
Greek Papyri
3.1. Origin of the word and analysis formula;
«mummy powder» as medicine………………………..52
3.2. Ancient Egyptian words related to
3.3. Process of mummification summarily
3.4. Example cases of analyzed Egyptian
mummies …………………............................................61
2.Chapter: Heka «the art of the magical written
2.1. The performance: priests, exorcists, doctors-
2.2. Written magic……………………………100
2.3. Amulets…………………………………..106
2.4. Human substances used as ingredients…115
3.Chapter: Pathologies’ types………………………..118
3.1. Parasitical..………………………………118
3.1.1. Plagues/Infestations…..……….……....121
3.2. Dermatological.………………………….124
3.3. Diabetes…………………………………126
3.4. Tuberculosis
3.5. Leprosy
3.6. Achondroplasia (Dwarfism) ……………130
3.7 Vascular diseases... ……………………...131
3.8. Oftalmological ………………………….132
3.9. Trauma ………………………………….133
3.10. Oncological ……………………………136
3.11. Dentists, teeth and dentistry ………......139
3.12. Gastroenterological/ hepatic ………….142
3.13. Urinary/Renal ……………….................146
3.14. Psychiatric …………………………......152
3.15. Genetic ………………………………...153
3.16. Respiratory …………………………….153
4.Chapter: Medical-magical prescriptions and used
4.1. Ingredients……………………………....157
4.1.1. Vegetable……………………………...157
4.1.2. Animal………………………………..157
4.1.3. Mineral……………………………….161
Annex I Egyptian Flora with medicinal-magical-
religious properties.......................................................206
Health and Medicine in ancient Egypt: magic and science
« (…)
The hairs in my head are the same as the ones from the
goddess Nun.
My face is the Solar disc of Ra.
The strength of the goddess Hathor lives in my eyes.
The soul of Upuaut
echoes inside my ears.
Inside my nose the forces of the god Khenti-Khas are
My two lips are the lips of Anupu
My teeth are the teeth of Serket.
My neck is the neck of the goddess Isis.
My two hands are the hands of the powerful lord of
It is Neit, the sovereign of Sais that lives in my two arms.
My backbone is the backbone of Seth.
My phallus is the phallus of Osiris.
My flesh is the flesh of the Lords of Kher-Aha.
My chest is the Lord of the Terrors.
My womb and my back are those of the goddess
The forces of the Eye of Horus dwelve in my buttocks.
My legs are the legs of Nut.
My feet are the feet of Ptah.
My fingers are the fingers Of the Double Divine Falcon
that lives forever.
In truth! There is no tone member in my body that is not
hosted by a divinity.
As for Thoth, he protects all my body.
As Ra, I renew myself everyday. »
Health was a constant concern in life and even the
deceased needed extra care so they can be at their prime
when closed in the sarcophagus, in the possession of
magical ‘weapons’ so that, when they would reach the
Afterlife, they would be in the complete possession of all
their physical abilities. Medicine in ancient Egypt was
trying to restrain all malefic beings from action and to
preserve the well-being of the individual. Thus the initial
statement that magic and science were one and only, a
sole concept, represented by heka .
Through this work, all descriptions and conceptions
observed in the existing legacy of ancient Egypt will lead
to conclusions that attest this unique duality, if we can
name it.
After careful observation, this work was divided in
Chapters, because this form was agreeing with the
Or Wepwawet.
Or Anubis.
Or Osiris.
Chapter 42 from The Book of the Dead, translated from the
Portuguese, Sales, 1999: 419.
interconnection of the studied themes, as, investigating
the Egyptian legacy, and comparing it many times with
present examples, part of the pathological patterns in
Egypt did not change much when referring to endemic
There are four Chapters, (1. Chapter: Sources of
Information; Medical and Magical Papyri; 2. Chapter:
Heka«the art of the magical written word»; 3. Chapter:
Pathologies’ types; 4. Chapter: Medical-magical
prescriptions and its ingredients); this theme list being a
description that contemplates from the global perspective
to details, revealing all, from general existing sources to
particular ingredients used in prescriptions.
The first Chapter (1. Chapter: Sources of Information;
Medical and Magical Papyri) briefly lists pertinent
sources of information to the study of medical-magical
practices in ancient Egypt and includes some sources not
quoted in this work, but nevertheless essential to this
research, analysis and conclusive thinking; Egyptian
papyri, written in different languages, ostraca with
medical-magical characteristics, skeletized and
mummified human remains, art depictions, foreign
travelers’ diaries, general literature where pathologies are
mentioned (personal letters), food habits, seasons of
famine and abundance, caused by war or natural
catastrophes as the yearly flood. The reference to the
origin of the word mummia is made and also to the
«mummy powder» used as medicine. Some ancient
Egyptian words are listed either related to health and
body parts or mummification, just as examples. Next, the
mummification procedures are summarily described
according to classical authors and some conceptions of
ancient Egypt regarding the human body. This chapter
ends with some cases of analyzed Egyptian mummies,
referring the used techniques and results. A table was
elaborated listing known cases.
In the second chapter (2. Chapter: Heka «the art of the
magical written word»), an analysis is made of how the
ancients Egyptian considered magic, both in life and after
death, in the afterlife, its relation to the human body,
magical ‘performances’ and the desired effects, the ‘job’
and its exercise by priests, exorcists, doctors-magicians,
the active practitioners of magic (those who produced
medical prescriptions and applied them), how the medical
diagnosis was made, a table illustrating medical
specialties is shown, some ancient Egyptian words are
listed as related to human body parts and mummification,
a question is made about per-ankh, a hospital-school?,
and also a reference to medical instruments is added.
Next we have a sub-chapter on written magic, spells and
gods related to magic, personal performances, another
sub-chapter lists different amulets and its importance,
mentions also some words used in personal protection,
including human substances used as ingredients in
magical prescriptions with medical intent.
In the third chapter (3. Chapter: Pathologies’ types), some
pathologies are discussed; the ones we can relate to
ancient Egyptian society as to have existed mentioning
treatments, when known.
In the fourth chapter (4. Chapter: Medical-magical
prescriptions and its ingredients), the ancient Egyptian
pharmacopoeia is discussed in more detail, distinguishing
the types of ingredients used in prescriptions in vegetable,
mineral and animal items, giving examples.
The conclusions are clear to attest that magic and
medicine did not exist as separate entities, distinct from
each other, as in ancient Egypt, the conception of well
being brings together a mix of prophylactic actions
(generally denominated as magic by modern Western
civilizations), and medical therapeutics with a probable
scientific basis.
1. State of the art
Researching health and medical practices in ancient
Egypt we approach several aspects of life in Egypt,
archaeology, religions
, and spoken and written
languages social daily life. It does not seem possible in
this type of scientific approach, according to the extant
data, as those are probably copies of an ancient written
legacy; to chronologically precise the religious-magical-
medical practices in ancient Egypt.
This work is, therefore, using the known sources of
information and concluding without closing dates.
As an example of uncertainty, there is the information
given to us by Saint Clement of Alexandria, born Titus
Flavius Clemens, (c.150 - 211/216)
about the possibility
of the existence of scientific encyclopedias such as those
42 volumes originally thought to have been written by
Thoth, six of them about medicine, from the Old
, this information is just that: an hypothesis.
Based on this this introduction is built, and here you can
read, intellectually analyze or even risk to state that, it
would have existed these books describing all the
observation, diagnosis and therapeutics involved in
ancient Egyptian science. These volumes would be,
according to Clement of Alexandria, describing the
constitution of the human body; its pathologies; organs;
general medical prescriptions; eye treatments; women’s
diseases’ treatments. It is also important to mention those
who studied at Alexandria in Greco-Roman times but
also those practices in the Coptic and Arabic Periods. It
would have been in this important Egyptian city in
Hellenistic times that the reminiscences of pharaonic
times influenced the knowledge and practices.
Lenoir, 2005 : 4-6.
Titus Flavius Clemens, first known theologian from the Christian
Church of Alexandria. In his Stromata, or Miscellania, Book I, chapter
XVI, this author states, regarding medicine in ancient Egypt that: «and
they say that Phoenician and Syrian invented the letters first; and that
Ápis, an aboriginal inhabitant of Egypt, invented the healing art before
Io (God, yawveh in Hebrew; Iao in Greek) arrived in Egypt. But then
they say that Asclepius improved the art»
Observing that, we can still repeat what was done at that
time and have notions of how some present popular
beliefs go back to Pre-Dynastic times, even though we
have no direct written or iconographic evidence of it for
such a remote time of Egypt, but we have oral tradition,
and in that, many of the myths still reflect intertwined
cosmogonies; gods that have several abilities and
competences which are sometimes melt into syncretic
ones. In the Ptolemaic period (c. 305-30 BC) and also in
Greco Roman period (30 BC a 395), Byzantine (middle
IVth century to 642), or even Arabic periods these
medical-magical practices of ancient Egypt persisted,
with more or less adaptations, as we can see from the
iconography, that is in continuous visual change all
through the History but also in the amulets that combine
divinities from different religious beliefs
and these are
discussed in (2. Chapter: Heka «the art of the magical
written word»).
Also of importance for our research are the diaries of
travelers to Egypt since Classical times (doctors in
Alexandria), letters sent from and to other countries such
as Assyria, Palestine and Mesopotamia (not used for this
work but nevertheless, important to mention and to
include as sources of information), Arabs and Europeans
established in Egypt in the XVIII (Napoleon’s
expedition), XIX and XXth centuries.
It is from the Nile that most of the information is taken
for the study of health and personal hygiene of ancient
Egyptians, as they survived thanks to this river.
Herodotus was the one who said that (Vth century BC):
“Egypt was the gift of the Nile”.
Every year the river flood brought life and prosperity,
starting mid-July and ending mid September, with the
deposit of the black land onshore, Kemet (the black land
as the dark color of the water impregnated with nutrients
showed as it rested on the Nile shores), and as an
opposition to Desheret (the red land as a comparison to
the scorching sands of the desert). In today’s Egypt the
endemic diseases are the same and parasitical ones,
affecting the eyes and the digestive tract, are caused by
Nile water infections as a result of bacterial activity.
Nile, the river, iteru, , itrw, was the chain
of life but also the bearer of disease, as contaminated
waters damaged some foods too as they cooked, cleaned
and drank the water from the Nile (as still today in rural
Egypt). Water was seen as a purifying element but this
might only apply in truth to the sacred lakes and even
though, those might be contaminated too by animals and
insects. Those lakes were kept so that priests, pilgrims
and the sick could bathe and cleanse themselves from
impurities, both physical and spiritual.
Veiga, Paula, 2008, Preliminary Study of an Unusual Graeco-Roman
Magical Gem (MA E540) in the ational Museum of Archaeology in
Lisbon, Portugal, CRE VIII, Kenneth Griffin (ed.) (with collaboration
with Meg Gundlach), Oxbow Books, Oxford, p.141-150.
Health and Medicine in ancient Egypt: magic and science
Running Nile waters and its channels were subjected to
animal and human defecation, sand deposit, wood and
stone debris deposit (from construction works), rotten
carcasses of animals and also decomposing plants from
sun action, insect eggs and larvae and other infectious
elements brought by the flood and manual labor. As the
flood was higher or lower in Egyptian shores each year,
so these populations had more abundance or could
experience famines if the waters did not rise high enough
to plant seeds, This, of course was reflected in the general
population state of health. There were 3 seasons:
Akhet, flood
Peret, water descent
Chemu, harvest
There is literature about Great famines and abundant
years as well.
Starting our trip, in the IVth century, in Alexandria,
and body dissection were already being made,
as Aretaeus of Cappadocia states.
Among several
descriptions we can mention Herodotus, Book II,
Histories, published around 430 BC or 424 BC, also
Diodorus Siculus, who’s visit to Egypt can be dated by
the 180th Olympics (60 to 56 BC); Strabo, a geographer
that visited Egypt during the reign of Augustus (27 BC-
14 AD), and Gaius Plinius Secundus, (23-79 AD), known
as Pliny the Elder, who wrote the aturalis Historia,
where he reveals many phytoterapeutical procedures used
in Egypt. This author seemed to have a great knowledge
of human physiognomy and medicine in general.
Jumping to a more recent period of Egyptian History in
the medical point of view, we start from the moment
when Napoleon brought Egypt to the world.
In 1798 Bonaparte brings with him to Egypt thousands of
men among soldiers, men from sciences, letters and arts
and this expedition results in the publication of the
Description de l'Égypte
in 37 volumes, published in
Paris shortly after returning from the trip. In this
expedition of 35000 soldiers and 167 ‘wise men’ and
some hundred civilians, the Rosetta Stone is discovered
and this will allow another French, Jean François
Champollion (1790-1832) to decipher the writing of
ancient Egypt some years later.
Faulkner, 2006: 4.
Faulkner, 2006: 90.
Faulkner, 2006: 267.
Autopsy: coming from the Greek root meaning "to see for one's self.”
The first documented human dissection was made by Herophilus. He
dissected more than 600 cadavers of condemned criminals (Malomo,
Calne, 2000: 60.
Digital version available online at:
is also in this expedition of 1798 participating in
this adventure, we might say, as the first ‘Egyptologist’.
«All my life I wished for this trip to Egypt…», he says at
the beginning of his diary. «Denon is the first European
to describe, examine, draw, measure and comment the
monuments of pharaonic Egypt and by so, giving them
the right to eternity. »
He says «…I was going to unveil
a new country…» Regarding healthcare in Egypt, Denon
describes some situations that may not be far from
ancient Egypt: «it was so hot that the Sun burned my feet
through the shoes
; «The solstice sun burned our
; «caused bleedings in the nose, giving us
painful exaltations that covered all body parts randomly,
dried and hardened the skin and made breathing very
difficult. The sunrays, main or even the sole cause of our
evils, made us feel in all the pores a kind of sting, very
similar to the ones produced by syphilis (would he have
suffered from this disease), that become unbearable
when, to lie down, it is necessary to lie down over all
these painful spots.»
Even the reference to the symbol of medicine
is made
by Denon after these observations: «…we have out it
along a bat and it became the goddess of health. The
Egyptians connected two of them around a globe, so it
would maybe represent the balance of the world system.
Describing the relationship between magic and
medicine in Egypt, Denon says that «They think that the
spiritual impoverished people, when dead, have powers
and influence; one is the Father of Light and cures the
evil from the eyes. Another is the Father of the generation
and presides all births, etc.», and, further, regarding a
magical tree: «I have found hair tied with nails, teeth,
small bags of leather, little standards and close to tombs,
from isolated stones, a place in the shape of a saddle
under which there was a thick lamp. Hair was nailed by
women to pin down the inconsistency of their husbands.
The teeth belonged to adults that consecrated them to
implore the return of the latter. »
There is even a
description of the diseases that struck the human forces of
this expedition: «The heat of the days, the freshness of
nights in that season afflicted the army with a large
number of ophthalmia: this disease is avoidable when
large walks or fatigue are followed by camping in which
the humidity in the air replicates perspiration, these
produces swellings that attack the eyes or the internal
organs. »
Denon, 2004: 24.
Denon, 2004: 19 (introduction).
Denon, 2004: 226.
Denon, 2004: 200.
Denon, 2004: 249.
The Rod of Asclepius, a single snake entwined around a stick.
Caduceus used mainly in pharmaceutical themes: two snakes around a
stick; Wilcox and Whitham, 2003, 138: 673-677.
Denon, 2004:120.
Denon, 2004:126.
Denon, 2004:130.
The heat is a constant disturbance, as Denon states: «We
are suddenly surprised with a heart pain and no help can
prevent the fainting that follows within which the
unhappy struck collapses. »
It did not go without notice
to the participants of this expedition the existence of the
khamsin, a southwest strong wind that swipes across
Egyptian lands for around fifty days (as its name in
Arabic says) between April and June, every year, coming
from the Sahara. It was called a hurricane by Denon: «the
colors of the horizon change, the animals wander about
the fields, in the river the water grows (…) agitating the
bottom of the river under the feet. A Great amount of dust
in the air tears out the eyes clouded by the arisen dust.
Lightning can be seen, it rains a lot and the plague of the
desert grasshopper
appears. The Nile course seems to
become straighter and its waters are muddy and stinky,
the winds change in direction and compress the lungs at
such velocity. »
As a curiosity there is a reference to the water of the
Wadi el-Ambagi in Qosseir at the Red Sea coast that,
being mineral water in a sterile soil, would give sobriety
to the location inhabitants and this means a low level of
diseases as no doctor was recorded at that place.
, in 1847, describes both Egyptian landscapes
and Pharaonic legacy, that there are few diseases there:
«The diseases in Egypt are few. »
He says that the
fevers are rare, except in the Mediterranean coast and
those foreigners, (non-Egyptian people) complain about
dysentery and ophthalmia. Furthermore, he presents
medical prescriptions to take in this case, how to protect
the eyes and protect yourself from the climate; speaks of
the ‘plague’, that may be an infectious disease (malaria),
and he advises on the evacuation to Upper Egypt as «…it
never goes above Osioót» (Assiut) or to stay in
quarantine, if you are in Lower Egypt.
According to another French, Desgenettes, (1762-1837),
Chief-Physician of Napoleon’s army, who sets up new
and strict hygiene and prophylactic practices when
commissioned to Egypt, as the cleaning of clothing,
places and the control of food hygiene, «the extreme
sobriety of the Egyptians (…) is a contribution for the
well-being and to extend the existence in this country, as
well as the air and the water (…), diseases that afflict like
plagues, dysentery and chicken pox. The most common,
Denon, 2004: 254.
Desert locust, Schistocera gregaria
Adapted from Denon, 2004: 236, 246.
Denon, 2004: 242.
Handbook for Travellers in Egypt, 1847, Sir John Gardner Wilkinson
The diseases of Egypt are few. Fevers are very rare, except about
Alexandria, Damietta, and other places on the coast; and almost the only
complaints, to which strangers are subject in the interior, are diarrhœa,
dysentery, and ophthalmia. The following is a good mode of treatment
for diarrhœa or even for the beginning of suspected dysentery.
Wilkinson, 1847: I, c.
timea.html (pages 6-7 in the paper edition).
affecting one third of the population [Cairo] is a kind of
disease of the eye; no other town has so many blind
people. Each four or five years, the plague [cholera]
escalates in Cairo in a violent way. (…)». This doctor
observed cases of small pox, scurvy, conjunctivitis and
With the discovery and further sale of magical and
medical papyri, the majority of them in the XIXth
century, there are Egyptologists interested in decoding
the medical prescriptions, its ingredients and the
spells/prayers that were recited over the treatments to the
patient. Although in the XIXth century some names are
already referenced as important to the study of medicine
in ancient Egypt. They were mainly French doctors
commissioned in Egypt by French rulers, they were
innovating the health system implanted in the Egyptian
population ad trying to fight endemic diseases. This
naturally arises in them, the curiosity for ancient Egyptian
medicine as its roots are still visible in contemporary
popular beliefs.
Egypt has the visit of Antoine Barthelemy Clot
1868), a French doctor known as Clot Bei, born in
Grenoble, and educated at Montpellier. After practicing
for some time at Marseille he was promoted to Chief
Surgeon by Muhammad Ali, viceroy of Egypt. In
Abuzabel, near Cairo, Antoine Barthelemy Clot founded
a hospital and schools to teach medicine, and also, with
religious opposition by the Egyptians themselves, the
study of anatomy by dissection of cadavers. In 1832
Muhammad Ali proclaimed him Bei, an important title,
without him having to convert to Islamic religion; and in
1836 he was promoted to general and chief of the medical
board in Egypt. In 1849 he returns to Marseille, but goes
back to Egypt in 1856, and he died in 1868.
In the development of paleopathology in the XXth
century some distinguished names were pioneers in
mummies’ autopsies, as Sir Marc Armand Ruffer,
professor of Bacteriology in Cairo Medical School, as he
said himself «the science of disease demonstrated in
human and animal remains is found in ancient tissue».
Also the Belgian Frans Jonckheere (1903-1956), from
Brussels, a surgeon and a gynecologist, counted 82
doctors by name in the Description, made extensive
research on the diseases from ancient Egypt.
In Egyptology, the branches of study diversify from daily
life to ancient Egyptian practices regarding hygiene, food
Clot Bei (Antoine Barthelemy Clot), French surgeon, recruited by
Muhammad Ali. He established a medical school, and launched the
basis of the Egyptian Public health Service. His collection of Egyptian
items was sold to the council of Marseille, France,; some of his work,
Relation des épidémies de cholera qui ont régné de l'Heggaz, a Suez, et
en Egypte (1832), De La Peste observe en Egypte (1840), Aperçu
général sur l'Egypte, 2 vols. (1840).
Ruffer, 1910.
There is a prize from L'Académie Royale de Médecine de Belgique
named Docteur Frans Jonckheere sur l'Histoire de la Médecine.
Health and Medicine in ancient Egypt: magic and science
and health and these studies start to become relevant in
some Egyptologists’ research, but only at the end of the
XXth century; as until the 1920’s and 1930’s of this
century, literature and linguistics were the main themes in
Egyptology, that began its existence after Champollion
deciphering of the hieroglyphic in 1822. In the following
decades of the XXth century, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, religion
was the dominant theme in published work, although
excavations in Egypt are a constant since the XIXth
century and the antiquity market bringing pieces to
Museums was current practice, what would have
contributed mostly to the advance of biomedical
Egyptology was the evolution of techniques, more precise
thus enabling surprising results.
2. The investigation of pathology patterns through
mummified human remains and art depictions from
ancient Egypt
«The lacuna is the most dynamic factor in the study of
ancient inscriptions. Here everything is to be found»
Bearing in mind that, in bone analysis, many diseases do
not last time enough to leave a mark on the bone,
macroscopic observation is the main tool of recognition
and possible attempt to identify diseases.
We can say
that, only after the technological availability of
radiological exam
and computerized axial tomography
– CAT scans – in the 1970’s and 1980’s, we can establish
an autonomous discipline within Egyptology itself.
We can add today to these techniques the MRI (Magnetic
Resonance Imaging), Imagiology (medical exploration
through images like ecography, ultrasound probing) and
the DNA testing (shorterm for deoxyribonucleic acid, the
essence of genetic material in organisms).
From the 1970’s onwards, bioegyptology has expanded
as an autonomous filed of research connecting
archaeology, forensic anthropology, linguistics (reading
rolls of linen around Egyptian bodies and engravings in
amulets found with these bodies and any other inscription
Tilde Binger, from Copenhagen, a former preacher now professor of
the Old Testament at the Department of Biblical Studies from
Copenhagen University,
Notes taken from Prof. Eugénia Cunha in a session of Forensic
Anthropology at the Instituto de Medicina Legal de Lisboa (Forensic
Institute of Lisbon), February 2007. Prof. Eugénia Cunha is one of the
authors of Forensic Anthropology and Medicine: Complementary
Sciences from Recovery to Cause of Death, Humana Press, 2006.
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (1845-1923) German physicist from
Würzburg University, that in November 1895, produced and detected
the electromagnetic radiation known as X-ray or Röntgen ray, which
gave him the Nobel prize of Physics in 1901.
Godfrey Newbold Hounsfield, from the UK, invents the first machine
in 1967, and in 1968 the complete equipment, in 1972 he records the
patent. In 1973 the famous Mayo Clinic, USA scans the brain and it is
wanted by everyone. Hounsfield gets the Nobel Prize of Physiology and
Medicine in 1979. The Nobel Committee describes Hounsfield as the
central person in computerized axial tomography, a revolutionary
radiological method, specifically in the research for nervous system
that is pertinent to the study of mummified bodies),
medicine, botanic and many other sciences if we think of
specialized ones such as chemistry and geology.
The aim of this work is to synthesize information from
ancient Egyptian daily life, everything that has been
written upon it and analyzed until today, throughout the
world, in different perspectives and several languages,
thus giving a contribution for an international research
and also possible future contributions for medicine and
Egyptology. Since the analysis of texts was done from the
linguistic point of view and its interpretation has been
reviewed already, in part, by some Egyptologists in the
XXth century and also some work done in the XXIth
century too, we are driven here to gather the reading of
some sections of medical prescriptions from these earlier
translations, interpretations on them and also some notes,
as well as the the analysis of some hieroglyphic
characters, mainly the ones referring to important parts of
the human body and some of the health concerns; a
comparison of ancient Egyptian practices with present
practices in medicine and pharmacy; analyzing the
efficacy of medicinal properties scientifically proved on
some Egyptian flora species (foreign and endemic) and
their utilization in the prescribed treatments
, as well as
the use of human ingredients, other animal and also
mineral ones for the wellbeing of ancient Egyptians.
There are already some general publications on medicine
in ancient Egypt that were used as bibliography for this
work; we are not trying to re-write the matter under the
same perspective, to take too long on linguistic matters
either such as the specific hieroglyph for a specific body
part or even fall under the same theories not yet certified
such as the one on the aaa disease,A’, .
We want to demonstrate that it is possible, in a near
future, to complete the Egyptological analysis of the
available sources of information, with new discoveries, to
have a perspective of the daily life in ancient Egypt of
personal and public health concerns, in different
specialties; some more important and known of the
pharaonic civilization, but in an innovative approach, a
particular and constantly in motion approach; as the
bioegyptology branch is still an embryo.
To reach the medical knowledge in ancient Egypt several
advancements have been occurring through developing
elements with new methods (archaeological in
expeditions every season) new models and techniques
examining mummified remains, more precise translations
of medical and magical papyri and a more detailed
interpretation of some hieroglyphs. In the study of
paleodisease progresses have been done using modern
techniques of examination called non-invasive. This is
possible in some medical departments and Museums in
the USA, Canada and Europe and in the National
Flora with magical properties studied by Wessely, 1931: 19-26.
Research Centre of Cairo that works in collaborative
projects with the KNH Centre of Manchester, UK
As Manuel Juaneda Magdalena states in his article La
Paleopatología en Egipto: pasado y presente:
« (…) Se
han constituido corpos cientificos de primer orden
(Manchester Museum Mummy Research Project, 1973)
entre otros, para el estudio de las momias y que
actualmente son un referencia con una meta muy clara: el
abordaje científico e interdisciplinario de los restos
momificados y establecer una metodología para cada
investigación y fomentar el conocimiento de la
enfermedad y de las condiciones de vida de las
poblaciones en la antigüedad. (…)»
The first woman to be professor of Egyptology in the UK
and the one in charge of the Manchester Mummy
Research for more than thirty years now (established in
1973), is Professor Rosalie David.
She has done pioneering work in research using non-
invasive techniques. Today, the KNH Centre for
Biomedical Egyptology in Manchester is the world
Centre for biomedical Egyptology. In the KNH, analysis
are done on tissue samples, more than a thousand, hosted
in a Tissue Bank
, with different provenances from
around the world, kept in the Mummy Tissue Bank,
allowing a more rapid development of biomedical
Egyptology. Patterns of disease are studied, with special
attention to schistosomiasis, with the future goal of
developing detection techniques for immunological
diseases identifying more rapidly the causes and finding
possible treatments as these diseases are still endemic to
present Egypt.
Still today, and according to Amal Samy Ibrahim,
epidemiologist at the University of Cairo, this bacteria
(schistosome) complicates even more the cancer in the
gallbladder representing 30,8 % of all cancers in Egypt,
40 % in men, being the most common in this country, in
KNH Centre of Manchester
National Research Centre of Cairo
Paleopathology in Egypt: past and present:
« (…) First class
scientific Centers have been set up (Manchester Museum Mummy
Research Project, 1973) among others, for the study of mummies that
are presently a reference with a clear purpose: the scientific
interdisciplinary approach to mummified remains and the establishment
of a methodology for each investigation in promoting the knowledge of
disease and daily life conditions of ancient populations”, Magdalena,
Some of her publications, among articles and books, both in paper
and online are crucial for these studies for their scientifical importance
for all research in paleopathology of ancient Egypt:
Lambert-Zazulak P., October 2003 , The International Ancient
Egyptian Mummy Tissue Bank at the Manchester Museum as a resource
for the palaeoepidemiological study of schistosomiasis, World
Archaeology, Volume 35, Number 2, pp. 223-240, Routledge
The relation between prescriptions to treat these diseases and the
plants used in them, even the unknown ones, as well as any evidence
left in mummified bodies, are the object of research in an ongoing
project of the KNH: Pharmacy in ancient Egypt,
the top of the chart, being Egypt the top country with gall
bladder cancer cases. This happens generally around 50
years of age. The disease is more difficult to treat as these
patients attacked by this bacterium have some difficulty
with chemotherapy treatments.
In ancient Egypt they already referenced carcinomas
(tumour, aat, , At)
but they were difficult to
distinguish from other inflammations such as pustules,
abscesses, blisters, pouches of fluid and cysts.
There were both seasons of prosperity and famine as
attested by some material found and some art depictions.
In a cemetery from the reign of Ramesses II seventy
skeletons were found and studied by the team of Manfred
Bietak in the autumn of 2005
they were abnormally
small and bad nutrition seems to have been the cause for
this; adult women with only 1, 40 m long (from 1, 37 to
1, 45 m), and adult men with only 10 cm more (1, 50 m).
«Do written sources contradict archaeological findings? »
A paradox, says Manfred Bietak: «Contemporary texts
such as the Anastasi II and Anastasi III Papyri speak of
the town splendor. There are even records where the king
describes the prosperity of the population and he is
praised». Written sources are therefore tendentious – as
opposed to archaeological findings that are objective –
«we must know how to interpret them», explains Bietak.
The cooperation between Egyptology and scientific
subjects becomes more important, determines Bietak.
Archaeology can point out social structures outside
society says Bietak.
The inscription on the «Famine Stela» in Aswan, at the
island of Sehel, done by the priests of Khnum at
Elephantine, states that, under king Djoser, as a
suggestion of his counselor Imhotep, calls all Egyptian to
cultivate the land from the Khnum temple to end the
famine in Egypt. The text was written part under Ptolemy
V Epiphanes: more than two thousand years after the
death of king Djoser, and says:
«I was in mourning on my throne,
Those of the palace were in grief,
My heart was in great affliction,
Because Hapy had failed to come in time
In a period of seven years.
Grain was scant,
Sheweita e O’Connor, 1999.
Nunn, 1996: 217.
This differentiation is possible after specific readings that led to the
work presented at the Pharmacy and Medicine in ancient Egypt
Conference at Manchester on September 2008,
ence/index.asp, about the paragraphs 857 - 877 from the Ebers Papyrus
following, among others the work of Baillard, 1998: 9-61.
Lichtheim, 1997: 130-134.
Health and Medicine in ancient Egypt: magic and science
Kernels were dried up,
Scarce was every kind of food.
Every man robbed his twin,
Those who entered did not go.
Children cried,
Youngsters fell,
The hearts of the old were grieving;
Legs drawn up, they hugged the ground,
Their arms clasped about them.
Courtiers were needy,
Temples were shut,
Shrines covered with dust,
Everyone was in distress. »
Between 51 and 49 BC, Egypt suffered a famine period
due to bad crops caused by the drought. Ptolemy XIII
signed a decree on October 27th, 50 BC that forbidded all
shipments of cereals to the exterior with the exception of
Alexandria and that in the inscription of the island of
Sehel, discovered in 1889 by Charles Wilbour, this
famine is recorded to have lasted for seven years under
the reign of Djoser.
Daily life was therefore a preparation for the afterlife (a
much better life we can conclude from ancient Egyptian
thought based on their writings); with gods to whom
oracles were dedicated, requests were made and spells
were prepared with, considering that, in the Greco-
Roman Period the average life expectancy was of 25
years, to the ones surviving birth, between 35 and 40
years of age to those passing the first year of life, and
close to 45 to those able to reach 5 years of age.
This demonstrates the difficulties of survival for the
majority of ancient Egyptian people, conditioned by
deficient hygiene standards, plagues grassing in the
country, harsh and aggressive climate conditions, the
heat; desert winds the still waters of the Nile and its
channels, sources of procreation for pathological
3. Specific existing bibliography some important
At present there are Egyptologists, paleopathologists,
doctors and scientists from different countries and
nationalities and different academic backgrounds that
have specialized and become interested in ancient
Egyptian medicine writing about it.
Some Works are
referenced below as examples among many bibliographic
references used, showing the specificity of some authors
in their research, those referenced below being
generalistic about health, medicine and prescriptions of
Lichtheim, 1980: 94-100.
Tunny, 2001: 120,, Bagnall
2006, 90, 104; Nerlich, 2001.
Special Note: All German referenced Works here are only quoted
because of their importance for this study but those were not browsed.
prophylactic-palliative characteristics (used ingredients,
magic as an element and all the notions given to us by
ancient Egyptians). A summary appreciation is made here
after the readings, focusing on some notes taken and most
important aspects, in our opinion:
Ebeid, N. I. Egyptian Medicine in the Days of the
Pharaohs, The General Egyptian Book Organization,
Cairo, 1999
In this work from the doctor Nabil Ebeid about medical
practices in the pharaonic era, the author describes some
of the analysis done on mummies in pages 28 to 55; talks
about priests, anatomy, Sekhmet and surgery in pages 70
to 137, with special focus on tumours in pages 102 to
116. The following sections are about orthopedics,
women’s diseases, internal medicine, where we find
information about the liver. He goes on with references to
teeth diseases and their therapeutics, diet, cosmetics and
medicine at the workplace. After that we have chapters
on hygiene and sanitation in ancient Egypt, mentions to
health and medicine related gods and also on physical
deformities. He finishes this work with a chapter on
mummification and its importance for medical sciences
and Egyptian historiography mentioning the main
collaborators on this. The bibliography indicated by this
author, (1999), allows any ancient Egyptian medicine
researcher valid information on complementary sources
of information.
Nunn, John, F. Ancient Egyptian Medicine, British
Museum, London, University of Oklahoma Press,
Norman, Oklahoma, 1996
In this work by the doctor John Nunn, recently retired
from supervision of the Anesthetic Department of the
Medical Research Council in London, and also member
of the EES,
translator of some Egyptian medical papyri,
and for twenty years dedicated to the study of medicine in
ancient Egypt, excellent visual diagrams are presented
about body parts’ names in hieroglyphic in the pages 46,
47 and 217 to 226; the author talks about Egyptian
medical papyri, going through human physiology and the
diseases affecting ancient Egyptians, from where we can
gather much information.
Further in this work he goes through the role of magic in
medicine, showing charts of the medical-magical ‘job’ as
shown in pages 118, 119, 121 and 210 to 216. Also
presented here is a relationship between mineral, animal
and vegetable pharmacopoeia, with associated charts,
pages 136 to 162, finally a list of traumatic diseases and
medical specialties. The bibliography mentioned is also
interesting, because, besides egyptological work, he
Egypt Exploration Society founded in 1882, presently at 3, Doughty
Mews, London.
mentions work done by doctors with knowledge of
Manniche, Lise, An Ancient Egyptian Herbal, British
Museum Publications, London, 1989.
As medical papyri are one of the main sources of
information for our work because of the medical
prescriptions described in them, it is essential to mention
this work, as Lise Manniche includes in it a chapter on
the ancient Egyptian flora used in medical prescriptions.
The vegetable universe serves one of the groups of
ingredients used in the preparation of prescriptions both
curative and preventive, it is therefore crucial to try and
cross plants’ names and descriptions in the medical
papyri and in other sources of information and their use
in medical care.
Illustrated in black and white drawings, this work starts to
mention the use of medicinal plants in page 58. A
complete herbarium lists plant information with its Latin
name, its ancient Egyptian name, also its Coptic name
and also Greek and contemporary Arabic, when possible.
This is enough to investigate these plants in the present
times to determine their characteristics, active substances
that are now reproduced in pharmaceutical laboratories
by chemical methods thus identifying them and of course,
finding that there are still many we cannot identify as
well. Dioscorides work is also cross referenced to give us
more information and possibility of comparison.
Bardinet, Thierry, Les papyrus médicaux de l'Égypte
pharaonique: Traduction intégrale et commentaire,
Penser la Médecine, Librairie Arthème Fayard, Paris,
In this excellent work, continuing the work done by
Gustave Lefebvre
, and completing some issues that
Lefebvre did not mention, Bardinet starts with the role of
the priests/doctors fighting diseases, using magic. He
continues with hieroglyphic definitions of name concepts,
talks about pathogenic elements, anatomy theories and
the largest part of his work is the study of the medical
texts. In these texts we can analyze, in detail, from the
French, some expressions and content of the medical
prescriptions. The knowledge of the medical papyri and
their different translations paying attention to the original
The Pharmacy of ancient Egypt Project from the KNH Centre in
Manchester is pursuing this cross-referenced work to try to determine
which are the ‘unknown’ plants referred in medical papyri and their
efficacy in medical prescriptions.
Coptic has its origin in the expression het-ka-ptah which means
palace of the ka from Ptah
(, name of the
temple in Memphis that was spread all over Egypt. The Greeks changed
it to aigyptos; Egypt for us in the Western world, as its actual name in
Arabic today is Misr.
Lefebvre, G, Essai sur la médecine égyptienne de l'époque
pharaonique, Paris, 1956.
ones where the hieroglyphic can be compared is of
extreme importance, but the contemporary crossing of
these oldest translations with new insights from medical
science brings together more accurate conclusions.
Ruffer, Marc Armand, Studies in the Paleopathology of
Egypt, ed. Roy L. Moodie, The University of Chicago
Press, Chicago, 1921
Sir Marc Armand Ruffer (1859-1917) was the Pioneer of
and, although this publication dates
from 1921 gathering work done by Ruffer since 1909
until almost the time of his death, it is still a crucial work
for those studying the patterns of health from ancient
Egyptians. In it we find records of examinations that
Ruffer did to several Egyptian mummies over the years,
with particular remarks, as they reflect precise
conclusions; they are real ‘autopsies’ giving us an insight
of what afflicted ancient Egyptians. He analyzed all kinds
of human tissue; skin, muscle, nerves, organs, bones from
both whole bodies and disarticulated body parts from
mummified Egyptian material. He was a Professor of
Bacteriology in the Cairo Medical School, and he defined
paleopathology as «the science of disease that can be
demonstrated in ancient human and animal tissue
remains. »
The histology of ancient Egyptian tissue material was
described for the first time by Ruffer in 1911, as he found
Schistosoma haematobium eggs in a mummy from the
XXth Dynasty. Until the 1990’s, the analysis methods
included radiology, CAT scans, endoscopy, macroscopic
observation, electron microscopy and serology. Several
infections were diagnosed: schistosomiasis, dracontiasis
(Guinea worm), tricocefaliasis, ascaridaysis and bone
tuberculosis as prevalent diseases in ancient Egyptians.
The recent introduction of molecular identification
methods (PCR) brings new light to the study of
David, Rosalie e Archbold, Rick, Conversations with
Mummies, ew Light on the Ancient Egyptians, Harper
Collins, London, 2000
The term was established in 1892 by an American doctor, R. W.
Shufeldt, from two Greek words: palaios, ancient, and pathos,
This publication contains several articles by the author: Ruffer, M.,
A., Remarks on the histology and pathological anatomy of Egyptian
mummies, Cairo Scientific Journal, 1910; 4: 3-7; ote on the Presence
of `Bilharzia Haematobia' in Egyptian Mummies of the XX
1250-1000 BC. BMJ 1: 16; On arterial lesions found in Egyptian
mummies, Journal Pathology Bacteriology 1911; 15: 453-462; ote on
an eruption resembling that of variola in the skin of a mummy of the
twentieth dynasty (1200-1100 B.C.); Histological Studies on Egyptian
Mummies (Mémoires présentés a l'institut Egyptien), Le Caire, 6, Fasc.
3 (Mars, 1911); Marc Armand Ruffer, Arnoldo Rietti, On osseous
lesions in ancient Egyptians, The Journal of Pathology and
Bacteriology, 1911; Pathological note on the royal mummies of the
Cairo Museum.
Health and Medicine in ancient Egypt: magic and science
In this work Rosalie David and Rick Archbold give us the
perspective of the path done by biomedicine in
Egyptology, particularly in the Manchester Mummy
Project but also illustrating other cases of mummies’
analysis important to this research. The 1975
examination, broadcasted by BBC, was decisive for this
branch of Egyptology in the scientific society and in the
international community of Egyptologists. This is a
complete manual of autopsies to mummified bodies that
leads us throughout the whole process, bearing all the
details in mind, from the body itself to its bandages,
footwear, jewelry, and even prosthetics. Several questions
are presented referring to the autopsy made and achieved
results. Obvious references to examinations on mummies
done in the early 1900’s are included (1908) also in
Manchester, by Margaret Murray, as the case of The Two
Brothers, Khnumnakht e Nekhtankh, that were carried out
by the present Manchester Mummy Project.
This work
continues with Napoleon’s first Egypt trip and mentions
others such as Denon, remembering the ‘dinner parties’
done by Pettigrew, other mummy autopsies, the work of
Sir Flinders Petrie and Elliot Smith and the discovery of
Tutankhamun’s by Carter.
The mummification procedures are described as well,
with references to the instruments and ceramic vases and
other ‘accessories’ such as the shouabtis
. Sarcophagi
and masks, bandages, portraits of Roman Egypt in the
sarcophagi, all this is part of the complex system of
identity preservation for the afterlife. A recent attempt to
mummify a body in order to get to some conclusions is
also mentioned.
The work of Cockburn is mentioned, as he has done
important examinations on mummified tissues, Nakht in
particular. The autopsy done in Paris in 1976 to the
mummy of Ramesses II is also mentioned.
The information about the 1881 discovery of a mass
grave in Thebes containing several royal mummies is
given as an important piece of information for the history
of this field, the Valley of the Kings and its importance is
also discussed.
A reference to the mummy of DjedMaatiuesankh from
the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada, examinations done
on this, applied techniques, radiography and CAT scan,
all the surrounding objects and a possible lifetime path is
Following this we have a description of the DNA
techniques that are even able to identify parasitical
presence in viscera remains. The investigation going on at
Manchester allows the study of malaria among other
infectious diseases.
Showing important images, this work refers summarily
but in a very professional and explanatory way the
hers.htm, R. David (2007) The Two Brothers Death and the afterlife in
Ancient Egypt. Rutherford Press, Liverpool
They did all the work in the afterlife for the deceased; hard work like
agriculture. Referenced in Pinch, 1994: 158.
process of mummification from the remains we have in
the present allied to the present available techniques.
Pinch, Geraldine, Magic in Ancient Egypt, University of
Texas Press, Austin, 1994
This is an essential work in the study of magic in ancient
Egypt and it starts by the concept of magic to the ancient
Egyptians, in mythology and the essence of the word
heka. It continues establishing the connection between
the myth and magic, similarities and differences; demons
and spirits; priests’ practices; written magic and the
power of the word; magical techniques; wax figures and
others used in magical performance; the amulets,
essential to life, health and after death; tells us also about
the medical-magical conceptions connected to fecundity;
establishes the parallel between medicine and magic;
continues with funerary myths, practices and concepts of
life after death and ends with the contribution of magic in
ancient Egypt to civilizations after them.
It was very important to the elaboration of this work and
it served as a basis for further research through its
bibliography and notes.
1. Chapter: Sources of Information; Medical and
Magical Papyri
As sources of information for the study of medical-
magical practices in ancient Egypt we have included
(even those that are not quoted but that were used to draw
conclusions and understand better the ancient Egyptian
-Egyptian Papyri in different writings, (hieroglyphic,
demotic, hieratic, Coptic, including Greek),
ostraca, general literature (personal letters), all
of medical or magical content.
-Mummified and skeletized human remains.
-Painted and sculptured artistic depictions, in tombs,
objects found in excavations that show physical
deformities, traumas or diseases.
-Foreign travelers’ diaries that, although they are
posterior to the pharaonic era, show
characteristics and habits that are persistent in
Egypt today, since ancient times.
Lists with information on medical-magical papyri used: University
College London:;; The
Papyrus Carlsberg Collection, Copenhagen:; Center for the Tebtunis
Papyri, University of California, Bancroft Library, Berkeley, California:; Yale University
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library:; The
Schøyen Collection:; University of
Charleston:; as listed in
the bibliography.
-General literature showing evidence of diseases
(again, personal letters)
, food habits, and
famine and abundance periods caused by war or
natural events like the annual flood.
Medical and magical Papyri
Medical and magical
Papyri related to health,
and also mummification
Place of
Berlin 3027
Berlin 3038 c. 1827 Saqqara
Edwin Smith c. 1860 Thebes
Ebers c. 1862 Thebes
Kahun UC 32057
(gynaecological) c. 1889 Lahun
Ramesseum III, IV e V e
VIII a XVI c. 1896
behind the
Ramesseum at
Hearst c. 1899 Deir el-Ballas,
south Dendera
London Papyrus 10059
? Thebes
Papyri Chester Beatty c. 1928 Deir el-Medina
Carlsberg VIII c. 1939 ?
Brooklyn 47218-02,
47218-138 e 47218-48 e
? ?
Insinger ? ?
Berlin 3033 – Westcar c. 1825 ?
IFAO Deir el-Medina 1 1928 Deir el-Medina
Leiden I 343-I 345
Schøyen MS 2634/3 1969 Alexandria ?
Tebtunis 1900 Fayoum
Yale CtYBR 2081 1966 ?
Papyrus Louvre
1953 ?
Rubensohn (Berlin
1908 Abusir or
Vindob 3873 1821 Alexandria
Vindob 6257
? Alexandria
Turin 54003
Yearnymous Londinensis ? ?
Louvre E 4864
? ?
Pinch, 1994: 150.
Irá ser estudado e as suas conclusões publicadas após a exposição
entre 6 de Junho e 6 de Agosto de 2007 no Museum do Louvre, segundo
o seu curador, Marc Étienne.
Published in Rubensohn, O., Elephantine Papyri; Ägyptische
Urkunden aus den königlichen Museen zu Berlin: Griechische
Urkunden, Sonderheft, Berlin, 1907.
Nunn, 1996: 41.
Borghouts, 1978: 23;
Medical and magical
Papyri related to health,
and also mummification
Place of
Borgia 1778 Fayoum
Bulaq 3
Mummification ? ?
Louvre 5158
Mummification ? ?
Carlsberg 13 e 14 (dream
Carlsberg 67 (prayer to
request a cure from Sobek,
at the Fayoum)
? ?
Chassinat Coptic IFAO
1.1. Papyrus de Kahun UC 32057
The Kahun Papyrus was discovered by Sir William
Matthew Flinders Petrie in April 1889 near Lahun
, near
the Fayoum oasis. Flinders Petrie was the founder of the
British School of Archaeology in Egypt and first Edwards
Professor of Egyptology in the University College of
; he was awarded Knightship in 1923. Today,
there is a Museum with his name
where we can see,
among many priceless artifacts, human samples of tissue
like hair, instruments that may have been used in surgery
objects of cosmetics and unguent jars.
Flinders Petrie published Kahun, Gurob and Hawara
with a description of the excavation site, drawings of the
objects found, as well as plants and some notes about the
flora and daily life.
The so-called gynecological Papyrus (Kahun) is today at
the University College de London in a bad state of
preservation. Dated from the XIIth Dynasty (c. 1850-
1700 BC), reign of Amenemhat III, it is very
fragmentated. It was published with a facsimile and
translated to English by Griffith in 1898 and then by
Stevens in 1975; it deals essentially with gynecological
issues. It will not be the subject of detailed study in this
Musée du Louvre:
Chassinat, 1921.
Between Beni Suef and the Fayoum, el-Lahun village was in the Nile
west bank close to the Fayoum. Hundreds of texts written in hieratic
were found here, in the ancient village of Ro-henet, which means
«mouth of the channel»and is translated to Coptic as Illahun.
Chair after Amelia Edwards, deceased in 1892; in January 1893,
William Matthew Flinders Petrie, her favourite archaeologist in Egypt,
became the first Edwards Professor of Egyptian Archaeology and
Philology, at 39 years of age. This Chair was offered to the University
College London, with preference over Oxford and Cambridge, because,
at that time, the UCL was the only place in the UK offering Chair to
Flinders Petrie, W. M., London, 1890
Women’s diseases, childbirth and STD were the object of an article
done for the Second International Conference for Young Egyptologists
Health and Medicine in ancient Egypt: magic and science
1.2. Papyrus Edwin Smith
James Henry Breasted, born in 1822
, was director of the
Oriental Institute of Chicago, and he published this
papyrus translation to English in 1930 with facsimile,
transcription, comments and introduction. This volume
was put together with some medical notes prepared by
Arno B. Luckhardt. Until today, Breasted’s edition is still
the only considered as a complete work on this text.
The papyrus belongs to the New York Academy of
Medicine and was exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum
of Art de New York in an exhibition about The Art of
Medicine in Ancient Egypt (2005-2006).
Dated from
the New Kingdom (c. 1550 BC) found in a Theban tomb,
was out for sale around 1860 by Mustafa Agha and, in
1862, was bought by Edwin Smith, an American resident
in Egypt. When he died in 1906, his daughter donated the
Papyrus to the New York Historical Society. It mentions
diseases and surgery cases, 62 in total, fourteen with
known treatments, and 48 without mentioning any
treatment, maybe chronical diseases difficult to treat or
even unknown diseases. It has seventeen pages and it was
found in the tomb of a doctor.
It deals with the
examination of the patient done by the doctor; the
majority of the examples given are of trauma cases. The
Word brain is used for the first time to mention the organ
in question: « (…)Smashing his skull, and rending open
the brain of his skull,” it means the smash is large,
opening to the interior of his skull, to the membrane
enveloping his brain, so that it breaks open his fluid in the
interior of his head. »
1.3. Papyrus Ebers
Magic is effective together with medicine. Medicine is
effective together with magic, according to the texts
prescribing treatments; these texts protect the doctor
practicing the treatment.
At the same time as Papyrus
Edwin Smith another Papyrus was bought in 1872 by
Egyptologist George Ebers who gave it his name. In
1875, Ebers publishes a facsimile, but it was the
Norwegian Bendix Ebbell in 1937 that concluded the
most exhaustive study of this Papyrus until today.
contains 877 medical treatises covering physical, mental
at Lisbon, October 2006; a CD version of the Proceedings will be
published soon (To prevent, treat and cure love in ancient Egypt).
A curious coincidence: the ‘official’ birth of Egyptology.
David, 2008: 188; Sanchez, 2007.
Feldman, 1999; Bardinet, 1995: 236-237, 497.
Bardinet, 1995: 39-59
Nunn, 1996: 30. Ebers, G. M., Stern, L., Papyrus Ebers, Facsimile
with a partial translation, 2 volumes, 1875; Joachim, H., Reimer,
Berlin, G., Papyros Ebers, The first complete translation from the
Egyptian, 1890; B. Ebbell, The papyrus Ebers, The greatest Egyptian
Medical document, Copenhagen, Levin & Munksgaard, 1937.
and spiritual diseases. The Ebers Papyrus has references
to eye diseases, gastrointestinal, head, skin, and specific
still unidentified diseases; aaa, probably ancylostomiasis
(hookworm - endemic to ancient Egypt).
This Papyrus has 110 pages and dates to 1534 BC, reign
of Amenhotep I.
It contains spells, a section on gastric
diseases, intestinal parasites, skin, anus diseases, a small
treatise on the heart, and some prescriptions thought to
have been used by gods. It continues with migraine
treatments, urinary tract disturbances, coughs, hair
conditions, burns and different wounds, extremities
(fingers and toes), tongue, teeth, ears nose and throat,
gynecological conditions and a last section on what is
thought to be tumours.
Paragraphs 1-3 have a series of magical spells to protect
the patient from surgical intervention in the diagnosis and
treatment. Following we find a large section on gastric
diseases, and parasitic and intestinal infestations
described in paragraphs 50-85.
Skin diseases have three
categories: irritative, exfoliative and ulcerative, in
paragraphs 90-95 and 104-118.
Diseases of the anus are covered in paragraphs 132-164
until paragraph 187. Some diseases are more difficult to
translate. They may have recognizable symptoms such as
an obstruction, but they can use a specific word such as
wekhedw or aaa. Paragraphs 242-247 have the
description of some prescriptions thought to have been
used by gods.
Paragraph 250 is all about migraines. In
paragraph 251 a drug is mentioned: «knowledge of what
is done with degem (probably ricinus oil), as something
found in ancient texts and useful to man. »
261-283 deal with the urine flux and medicines to «make
the heart receive bread»
Paragraphs 305-335 have
medicines for coughing and knees’ disease. The rest is
about hair (437-476), liver diseases (477-481), trauma
wounds, burns and flesh wounds (482-529), and
extremities treatments.
Paragraphs 627-696 deal with the relaxing and
straightening of the metu channels. The meaning of metu
is dubious; they can be blood vessels, tendons or any
other channel of fluid or ligament in the body. The
Papyrus continues with tongue diseases (697-704), skin
conditions (708-721), teeth (739-750), ear, nose and
throat (761-781) gynaecology issues (783-839). It is
somewhat similar to The Edwin Smith Papyrus in the
treatment of limbs hardened and painful, and also similar
to Kahun Papyrus in the gynecology issues.
Davis, 2000; Kloos, 2002.
Nunn, 1996: 31.
Bryan, 1974: 50.
Nunn, 1996: 32.
Nunn, 1996: 33. Bryan, 1974: 45.
Nunn, 1996: 33.
Nunn, 1996: 33.
1.4. Papyrus Hearst
Housed at the Bancroft Library, University of California,
it was discovered at Deir el-Ballas in Upper Egypt, south
of Dendera, in 1899, and it became a property of the
California American Expedition (Hearst Egyptian
Expedition) when George Andrew Reisner brought it in
1901. Dated from the New Kingdom (c. 1500 BC), it was
published by George Andrew Kingsner (1867-1942), in
Leipzig in 1905, then by W. Wreszinski, Der Londoner
medizinische Papyrus (und der Papyrus Hearst), Leipzig,
1912, in: Medizin der alten Ägypter, II, Leipzig 1912; e
em Deines, H. von, Grapow, H. and Westendorf, W.,
Grundriss der Medizin der alten Ägypter, Berlin,
Akademie-Verlag, 1954-63, 1973. It has 260 medical
formulae, and deals with general clinic cases. Some of the
texts (96) are found in The Ebers Papyrus.
It has eighteen pages, concentrating on the urinary tract
treatments, blood, hair and snake and scorpion bites.
Written in hieratic, its prescriptions go from «a tooth that
has fallen out» (column I, l. 7) to «medicine to treat the
lung» (column IV, l. 8) and even human bites (column Ll
de II. 6-7), pigs and hippopotamus bites also (column Ll
de XVI. 5-7). This Papyrus is in very good conditions. It
has also a chapter on orthopedics.
Fragment 8 deals specifically with metu diseases.
1.5. London Papyrus BM 10059
Housed at the British Museum since the beginning of the
XXth century
, it belonged first to the Royal Institute of
London. Dated from the XIXth Dynasty (c.1300 BC) and
published by W. Wreszinski
has some magical
formulae, with spiritual and magical texts (demon cast-
away spells)
; spells against swellings, some unidentified
diseases, one for the placenta, dermatological diseases,
eye diseases, against hemorrhages (in pregnant women)
and burns. It has some 62 prescriptions from which only
25 are medical.
We can also find a spell to cast away flies in the Nile
banks when building or planting there. There is, in this
Papyrus, evidence of interchanging with foreign
, specially the mention of new vegetable and
mineral ingredients used more and more in New
Kingdom Egypt.
Egypt’s Golden Age, 1982: 295.
W. Wreszinski, Der Londoner medizinische Papyrus (und der
Papyrus Hearst): Medizin der alten Ägypter, Band II, Leipzig 1912; e
em Deines, H. von, Grapow, H. e Westendorf, W., Grundriss der
Medizin der alten Ägypter, Berlin, Akademie-Verlag, 1954-63, 1973.
Borghouts, 1978: 21, 23.
Leitz, 1999: 51-52.
Leitz, 1999: 61.
Ritner, 2000: 107-117
1.6. Berlin Papyrus 3038
Housed in the Berlin Museum since 1827, it is probably
dated from the reign of Ramesses II, from the XIXth
Dynasty and it was discovered in the beginning of the
XIXth century in a Saqqara tomb. It was then sold to
William IV from Prussia with other items in 1827, and it
went to the Berlin Museum. Wreszinski made a
translation to German in 1909. It has 24 pages (21 in the
recto and 3 in the verso).
It deals with general clinic cases and it is similar to
Papyrus Ebers. It contains 25 pages and 240
prescriptions, three of the pages are written in a different
language. A large part of its index consists in a repetition,
word by word, with many mistakes and careless copy of
some paragraphs from the Ebers Papyrus and also Hearst
Papyrus. Includes sections on rheumatisms, a treatise on
the heart, similar to the one on the Ebers Papyrus, and a
note about it’s’ origin, more detailed than the one found
in the Ebers Papyrus.
1.7. Chester Beatty Papyri
Those are a collection of fragments discovered in 1928 in
the working village of Deir el-Medina (Western Thebes);
they are preserved in different places: Institut Français
d’Archéologie Orientale (IFAO), Cairo; Ashmolean
Museum, Oxford; Chester Beatty Library and Gallery,
Dublin and the British Museum. The London fragments
were donated by the industrial millionaire Sir Alfred
Chester Beatty, and they are in a bad state of
preservation, although some restoration work was done
on them.
They were initially published by Gardiner
and Jonckheere
, and they are part of the Grundriss
They are dated from the XIXth Dynasty, and they
belonged to a family of scribes at Deir el-Medina. They
include prescriptions to treat diseases of the anus, spells
against migraines and some prescriptions and spells still
Chester Beatty V (BM 10685), in its third section, has
some magical formulae against migraines; Chester Beatty
VI (BM 10686), in its eight pages, divided in 41
paragraphs, is almost entirely dedicated to anus diseases
and it has also some spells for the unknown diseases;
Chester Beatty VII (BM 10687), has magical formulae
First studied by Passalacqua, then by H. Brugsch in 1855, Lepsius in
1865, and Wreszinski, W. Der grosse medizinische Papyrus des
Berliner Museums (Papyrus Berlin 3038). Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1909,
Jonckheere in 1958, Ghalioungui in 1983 and Leca in 1988.
Nunn, 1996: 36.
Gardiner, A.H., Hieratic Papyri in the British Museum, Third Series,
Chester Beatty Papyrus, British Museum, London, 1935.
Jonckheere, F. Le papyrus médical Chester Beatty, La Médecine
Égyptienne, 2, Fondation Égyptologique Reine Elisabeth, Brussels,
Grapow (dir.), Grundriss der Medizin der Alter Ägypter, Berlin,
1954-1963 (com suplementos, 1973).
Health and Medicine in ancient Egypt: magic and science
against scorpion bites; Chester Beatty VIII, (BM 10688),
the less interesting one, has a prescription for an
unknown disease, among magical texts; Chester Beatty
XI, spells for good health, including the Tale of Isis and
Ra (BM 10691), some others have also spells for good
health, Chester Beatty XII, (BM 10692), Chester Beatty
XIII, (BM 10693), Chester Beatty XIV, (BM 10694),
Chester Beatty XV, (BM 10695), from which only one
page is preserved with some lines on prescriptions to
destroy the «mouth thirst»; Chester Beatty XVI, (BM
10696) and Chester Beatty XVIII, (BM 10698).
1.8. Carlsberg Papyrus VIII
These fragments, written in Hieratic, are housed at the
Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Copenhagen. They are dated
probably from between the XIXth and the XXth
Dynasties, but it is reported to the XIIth Dynasty.
It was first published by Iversen
, then by Buchheim
and later on by Grapow
It has some notes in the verso about the Egyptian origin
of some birth prognosis, it deals with obstetrics, being
similar to the Kahun Papyrus and the Berlin Papyrus
it refers also some pregnancy problems, the determination
of the fetus’ sex and the possibility to conceive. In the
Papyrus’ recto there is a medical treatise dealing with eye
diseases, in bad state of preservation, almost a copy, page
after page from the same section on the Ebers Papyrus.
1.9. Brooklyn Papyri 47218-02, 47218-138 e 47218-48 e
The place where these papyri were discovered is still
unknown. There was a translation to French done by
Serge Sauneron published after his death, in 1989. These
are housed at the Brooklyn Museum of New York.
Dated from the end of the XXXth Dynasty or beginning
of the Ptolemaic Period but written in Middle Kingdom
style. There are about snake bites and treatment formulae
to expel the venom from the body.
1.10. Other Papyri
Ramesseum Papyri III, IV, V and VIII to XVI
Nunn, 1996: 37.
Iversen, 1939: 4; Nunn, 1996: 39.
Iversen, 1939.
Buchheim, Liselotte, Das Buch von den Augen und die
Geburtsprognosen. Zwanzig Jahre Papyrus Carlsberg VIII, Die
medizinische Welt 15: 787-8, 1960.
Grapow (dir.), Grundriss der Medizin der Alter Ägypter, Berlin,
1954-1963 (com suplementos, 1973).
Iversen, 1939: 5.
Iversen, 1939: 4; Nunn, 1996: 39.
Nunn, 1996: 40.
Ramesseum Papyri III (BM 10756), IV (BM 10757) e V
(BM 10758) e VIII (BM 10761) a XVI; (BM 10762, BM
10763, BM 10764, BM 10765, BM 10766, BM 10767,
BM 10768, BM 10769) are housed at the British
Museum. These were discovered by Quibell in 1896 in a
wooden box at the bottom of a shaft, under some bricks,
behind the Ramesseum at Thebes.
Some of those were
studied and published by Gardiner in 1955, then by Barns
in 1956 and also by the Grundriss
It has sections about eye diseases, gynecology, muscles
and nerves, para-obstetrics practices and also pediatrics.
Gardiner states that they may date from the XIIIth
Dynasty, beginning of the Second Intermediate Period,
written probably around 1900 BC, and dated from the
same time as Kahun Papyrus.
Ramesseum Papyri III and IV are magical-medical texts
for mother and child.
Ramesseum Papyrus IV is very
similar to Kahun Papyrus; it has many prescriptions
about giving birth, how to protect the newborn at the day
of his7her birth, the viability of the infant (life
expectancy), and an anticonceptional formula using
crocodile dung ending similarly to the one on the Kahun
Ramesseum Papyrus V has some prescriptions on the
metu, being in a bad state of preservation since the
beginning and end of the Papyrus are missing, but it has
about twenty prescriptions on how to treat hardened
This Papyrus is written in cursive hieroglyphic,
not Hieratic.
Ramesseum Papyrus VIII has a text on
Ramesseum Papyrus IX has some rituals on how to
protect a house from magic, spirits and snakes.
Ramesseum Papyrus X has magical spells on how to
protect your limbs from snake bites. Ramesseum Papyrus
XI has love spells and Ramesseum Papyrus XII has
invocations to demons to treat fevers. Ramesseum Papyri
XIII and XIV have some healing texts not yet studied.
Ramesseum Papyrus XV has some spells to protect the
body and Papyrus XVI has more spells against snakes
and bad dreams.
Insinger Papyrus
Nunn, 1996: 39.
Barns, J. W. B., Five Ramesseum Papyri, The Griffith Institute,
Oxford, 1956; Grapow (dir.), Grundriss der Medizin der Alter Ägypter,
Berlin, 1954-1963 (with supplements, 1973).
Nunn, 1996: 39.
Borghouts, 1978: 43.
Bardinet, 1995: 471.
Nunn, 1996: 40.
Lefebvre, 1958: 174.
The Insinger Papyrus is published in several work,
dated from the Ptolemaic Period (304-30 BC), mentions
problems that arise from an unhealthy diet and a non-
advisable lifestyle, stating what are the long term effects
of the abuse of alcohol in ancient Egypt, the hangover of
the morning after is mentioned using the French name
hairache (mal aux cheveux); speaks also about obesity,
that was not controlled or criticized than:
« The life that controls excess is a life according to a wise
man's heart.
Vegetables and natron are the best foods that can be
Illness befalls a man because the food harms him.
He who eats too much bread will suffer illness.
He who drinks too much wine lies down in a stupor.
All kinds of ailments are in the limbs because of
He who is moderate in his manner of life, his flesh is not
Illness does not burn him who is moderate in food.
Poverty does not take hold of him who controls himself in
His belly does not relieve itself in the street because of
the food in it. »
It also states that amulets and spells will only work by the
hidden power of the god that acts upon the world.
may refer to the practitioner/magician.
Berlin Papyrus 3033 – Westcar Papyrus
Papyrus containing a series of magical tales, probably
recorded in the Old Kingdom, being dated from the
Hyksos Period in ancient Egypt, where a magician shows
his skills in the king’s court.
In the tale called The
Birth of the Royal Children, the text shows us how a
delivery was performed.
Published by A. M.
, a transcription from the Papyrus includes
comments on the hieroglyphic and state of preservation
of the Papyrus with images from the original that will
probably be the most ancient record of a magical practice,
c. 2000 BC
Papyrus IFAO Deir el-Medina 1
At the workmen’s village of Deir el-Medina many texts
were found in Papyrus and also ostraca, some are housed
presently at the Institut Français d’Archaéologie
Orientale (IFAO), in Cairo, other at the Ashmolean
Leiden, National Museum of Antiquities, F 1895 / 5, 1, (P. Insinger);
Lexa, Papyrus Insinger IV, 4, OMRO 63, 1982 and Lichtheim, 1980.
Lichtheim, 1980: 190.
Pinch, 1994: 117.
Lichtheim, 2006: 215-216.
Lichtheim, 2006: 220-222; Pinch, 1994: 127-128.
Blackman, Aylward M., The Story of King Kheops and the
Magicians, British Museum Press, London, 1988.
Museum in Oxford, at the Chester Beatty Library and
Gallery in Dublin, and at the British Museum in London.
The Papyri at the Institut Français d’Archaéologie
Orientale (IFAO) in Cairo include personal letters such as
this Papyrus IFAO Deir el-Medina 1, copy of the
Teachings of Ani that has spells for good health.
According to the Institute, these papyri were found in
1928 during excavations at Deir el-Medina but there is no
certainty that they all belong to the same discovery date.
The story of these papyri was reconstructed by Gardiner,
Posener and Pestman; these authors thought that, in the
XIXth Dynasty (13
century BC), some of the texts were
copied by Kenherkhopechef, ‘accountant for the project
of the royal tomb’. They may have been housed at the
tomb/chapel, before being moved to where they were
Leiden Papyrus I 343+345
At Thebes several Papyri were found that became known
by this designation, in the XIXth century by Johann
This fragment, Leiden I 343+345, dated
from the IIIrd century AD, has essentially only magical
(spells against demons), written in Demotic. It
has instructions on divination processes, some medical
prescriptions as the treatment for a dog bite, extraction of
venom and a bone stuck in the throat; and even
prescriptions to induce sleep paralysis and death. In the
verso names plants and animals, and presents several
prescriptions for pregnant women, gout, eye diseases and
love spells.
It is housed at the National Museum of
Amsterdam, dated from the XVIIIth and XIXth
Dynasties. It was translated by the Jesuit Egyptologist
Adhémar Massart at Leiden in 1954. It is essentially
about magical spells.
An example to repel a demon in
these texts invokes divinities of a probable foreign origin
(Semitic), the samana-demon.
Schøyen Papyrus MS 2634/3
Its content refers Epidemies II, 6:7 10 from
Hippocrates, written in Greek, from Alexandria, dated
from the final of the IInd century BC to the beginning of
the I BC, one fragment from which the last part of the
Pestman, 1982: 155-172.
Johann d'Anastasi (1780-1857), son of a Greek merchant from
Damascus, that became rich supplying Napoleon’s troops and later vice-
consul of several Scandinavian countries becoming even richer with the
commercialization of grain and using his influence during the reign of
Mohammed Ali Pasha to deal on Egyptian antiquities making those
getting out of the country through Alexandria. A big part of His
collection was sold in 1828 and deposited at the University of Leiden.
In 1885, C. Leemans finished the publication with a Latin translation of
some of the texts.
University College of London :
Griffith, Thompson, 1904: 15-18.
DuQuesne, 2002: 243.
Borghouts, 1978: 18-19.
Health and Medicine in ancient Egypt: magic and science
column, II, 611-22, is at Princeton University, (P.
Princeton AM 15960A). It is probably from the extinct
Library of Alexandria and it was bought from an
antiquities’ dealer in Cairo in 1969 by Anton Fackelmann
Senior, from Vienna. It is the first Papyrus from the
Hippocratic Corpus to be published.
The text is divided
to show correspondences, and prove that this was the way
Hippocrates would demonstrate it, because there was
some rivalry among those practicing medicine in
Alexandria from Ptolemaic times to Roman times.
Hippocrates would have saved many medical texts from
oblivion. Only this and some others give us the
opportunity to have a glimpse of the ancient corpus
before Artemidorus Capito is published, and before Galen
interpret these texts. They are exhibited at the
BibelMuseum, Münster since 1986.
Tebtunis Papyri
Written in Greek, these are housed at the Bancroft
Library from Berkeley University, California.
There is,
in the Fayoum area
a crocodile cemetery where more
than a thousand mummified crocodiles were found and
also sarcophagus in 1900. These items did not come only
from the official excavations from the Egypt Exploration
Fund in 1899/1900 and Berlin in 1902, and from the
University of Milan’s excavations in 1929-1936 and 1989
to present, but also much of them were stolen by location
peasant and sold. All the material sold in the beginning of
the XXth century in Egypt is around the world in private
collections. As such, much of this material from Tebtunis
has not been studied and the already studied texts need a
M. Gronewald, ZPE 28, 1978: 276-277; A.E. Hanson: SAMR 23,
1995: 26-27; e A.E. Hanson e T. Gagos, Well Articulated spaces,
Hippocrates, Epidemics II 6, 7-22, in Specimina per il Corpus dei
Papiri Greci de Medicina, Firenze 1997: 117-140.
The Schøyen Collection:
Umm el-Baragat, present name of the village next to the old
Tebtunis, SW of the Fayoum, one hour driving from Medinet el-
Fayoum. These texts were found at the temple dedicated to local Sobek,
Soknebtunis at Tebtunis, built during the XXIIth Dynasty inhabited by
Greek and Roman. Excavations were conducted during 1899/1900. This
temple was built by order of Ptolemy I (305-285 BC) and later enlarged
by Ptolemy XII (80-58 and 55-51 BC). Several Papyri were found,
belonging to the priests of Soknebtunis near the temple. Dated
approximately from the IInd century AD;
In the fourth season of excavations from another location but also
from the Greco-Roman Period, Soknopaiou Nesos, the island of the
crocodile god at the Fayoum, by the team from the Centro di Studi
Papirologici dell’Università di Lecce, directed by Mario Capasso and
Paola Davoli, in December 2006, among other artifacts, some important
papyri were found, written in Greek and Demotic:
Abstract by Arthur Verhoogt, ew light on The Family Archive from
Tebtunis, Annual Meeting of the American Philological Association,
Philadelphia, 2002.
In what remains from this temple many documents were
found from medical texts to administrative and religious.
As a curiosity, the public toilets found date from the IIIrd
century AD. They had showers, stone basins and a stove
to heat the bath water. In the Ptolemaic and Roman
Periods there is an increase in the use of amulets, healing
statuary and magical papyri for personal use.
At Tebtunis, medical practice was probably done by
temple priests. Medical prescriptions were found in
(Tebtunis Papyrus II 676, 677, 689), a very damaged
medical treatise (Tebtunis Papyrus II 678), a collection of
eye medicines (Tebtunis Papyrus 273), a fragment of
Herodotus Medicus (Tebtunis Papyrus II 272), from the
end of IInd century AD and an illustrated herbal
(Tebtunis Papyrus II 679), maybe the first herbal in
Its formatting is according to the description from Pliny,
The Elder. Each section has a preface, the name of the
plant followed by a colour illustration and a description
of the medical properties and medicinal preparation that
can be made from it.
Some of these texts seem to have come from inside the
temple, as well as some medical instruments from the
same location, and this indicates that priests were actively
involved in medicine at Tebtunis. The fragments from
Tebtunis Papyrus II 275 consist in an amulet against
fever in the Roman Period (I BC-IV AD). An inverted
triangle is formed by a magical word repeated with
successive omission of the first and the last letters, so it
can be read in any direction.
Yale Papyrus CtYBR 2081
Written in Greek and not yet confirmed to be a medical
text and also without evidence of origin, housed at the
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale
University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. From the
Ptolemaic Period, end of the IIIrd century AD, also with
the reference of Yale Papyrus 123, bought in 1966.
Louvre Medical Papyrus
A recent acquisition from the Louvre Museum bought
from the Ipsen Group.
It was bought by a private
collector in 1953, brought to France and sold after his
death. It is thought to be the second largest medical
Papyrus (after Ebers Papyrus) with eight sheets (seven
meters), written in Hieratic (both sides) in a New
Kingdom style. In the recto the first scribe (they are two)
collected diagnosis and medical prescriptions; the texts
Tebtunis Papyri:
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Papyrus Collection:
are mythological in their background as the treatments
are divine. Deals with several chefut: pustules, furuncles
and abscesses, indicating how to diagnose them,
presenting medical and magical prescriptions to treat
Rubensohn Papyrus (Berlin 10456)
Housed at the Ägyptisches Museum und
Papyrussammlung, Berlin,
and written only in the
recto, with prescriptions and tests to cure coughs. Its
specialty is the detailed scientific language which
demonstrates that, in ancient Egypt there was not only
magic and superstition in the cures but also science.
Vindob Papyrus 3873
Combines Hieratic and Demotic and describes the
embalmment ritual of the Apis bull in detail. It is housed
at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, it was
bought at Alexandria in 1821 and in it there is the
description of the priest’s procedures in the seventy days
of mourning; his total depilation for this ceremony, with
details of fasting in this period. It also describes the ritual
of Apopis’ death as a necessary liturgical act to this
procedure. It can be included in this work as a reference
to mummification and how the organs were treated.
Vindob Papyrus 6257 (Crocodilopolis)
Dated from the second half of the IInd century AD does
not have any magical texts; lists prescriptions from the
Mediterranean area never mentioned before in Egyptian
medical texts.
Turin Papyrus 54003
A medical-magical papyrus, written in Hieratic, with
practical medical advice and magical formulae for a good
«return to life». It has also some formulae to cast away
and protect the eyes. The spell for take a fish
spine stuck in the throat by eating bread it is its ex-
Shown at a recent exhibition at the Louvre, from June 6 to August 6,
2007, about the medical arts in ancient Egypt. Marc Étienne, curator of
this exhibition, from the ancient Egyptian Art Department at the Louvre
and also a lecturer on Egyptian Archaeology at the École du Louvre
says that the papyrus is being studied following this exhibition. The
Project will last three years (private e-mail and at an interview to the Le
Monde in June, 7, 2007:,47-0@2-
Rubensohn worked at Abusir in 1908 collecting papyri found in
The Apis Embalming Ritual, P. Vindob 3873,
Orientalia Lovaniensia
Analecta, 50, 1992.
Nunn, 1996: 41.
Borghouts, 1978: 91.
Borghouts, 1978: 23 e
Anonymus Londinensis
The Anonymus Londinensis
is based, in part, in the
history of medicine written in the IVth century BC by
Meno, a disciple of Aristotle. Philolaus of Croton
explained the disease considering three factors: bile,
blood and phlegm.
It is a long Papyrus about the
execration theory. The longest Greek papyrus found so
far, written in the IInd century AD. Classified as BM 137,
it has a Latin introduction, and a Greek text with notes.
Louvre Papyrus E 4864
It has a small medical text n the verso. Dated from the
XVIIIth Dynasty, c. 1400 BC
Borgia Papyrus
Forty to fifty Greek Papyri were found buried in a vase in
the Fayoum area, where Ptolemy Philadelphos has his
Greek veterans. One of these papyri was bought and
ended up in the hands of Cardinal Stefano Borgia in
1778; the others were destroyed as they were thought to
be worthless. Borgia Papyrus (3.5 m) was published tem
years after and records the forced labor of peasants (a
long list of names) building the Nile embankment at
Tebtunis, between 192 and 193 AD.
Chassinat IFAO Coptic Papyrus
This Coptic manuscript from the IXth century AD was
found by peasants at Meshaikh
and bought by
to the Institut Français D'Archéologie
Orientale in Cairo Library, in the winter of 1892-83.
The text shows that scientific tradition was not lost
between the pagan period and the Christian era in Egypt;
Publicado por Roccati, A., Papyrus ieratico n. 54003,. Estratti magici e
rituali del Primo Medio Regno, Turin 1970.
Diels, Hermann, Anonymi Londinensis ex Aristotelis Iatricis
Menoniis et aliis medicis eclogae / edidit Hermannus Diels, Berlin,
Kingmer, 1893, [xviii]-76 p. Coll. CAG, Supl. 3.1 [231]; Anonymus
Londinensis, University Press, Cambridge, 1947.
Huffman, 1993: 88 ; Stanford University, California, USA:
Centre national de la recherche scientifique,
University College London:
Head, Peter, Tyndale House, Residential Centre for Biblical Studies,
Bromiley, 1995: 652.
Schoff, 1925: 76.
Bouriant, U., Fragment d'un livre de médecine en copte thébain,
Comptes rendus de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, série
4, 15, 1887 : 374-379.
Chassinat, 1921.
Health and Medicine in ancient Egypt: magic and science
native (ancient Egyptian), Greek and Christian traditions
were combined.
Arab rulers of medieval Egypt had much confidence in
Christian doctors and their work was translated from
Coptic to Arabic, although not many Coptic texts of this
type are known today, written in Sahidic
possible due
to material deterioration. Another problem is the
identification of the ingredients used in prescriptions; this
text has some symbols from alchemy and pharmacy.
It has prescriptions for eye and skin diseases that are
copies from Old Kingdom texts.
There are other Papyri with relevant interest for the study
of medicine in ancient Egypt; some Greek fragments of
medical texts spread around the world in different
institutions. These are mentioned next with brief
references as found in the researched bibliography:
Physiology Treaty in three fragments written in the Ist
century BC; Rylands Papyrus 1.21 (John Rylands
Library, Manchester, UK); Berliner Papyrus
Klassikertexte BKT 3.10-19 (inv. 9770) (Staatliche
Museen zu Berlin); Kingnach Papyrus 1.2, Papyrus
Sorbonne (inv.2011) (Institut de Papyrologie de la
Sorbonne, Université de Paris).
An ophthalmology treaty in four fragments, from the first
half of the IInd century BC; Rylands Papyrus 1.39 (John
Rylands Library, Manchester, UK); Grenfell Papyrus
2.7b (Bodleian Library Greek E.63 (P), (Oxford);
Heidelberg Papyrus inv. 401 (Heidelberg); Hibeh
Papyrus 2.190 (BM 2963) (British Museum).
Ophthalmology questionnaire written in the IInd century
AD; Ross Georg Papyrus 1.20 (P. Golenischeff, Museum
of Fine Arts, Moscow).
Scroll with ophthalmology prescriptions with notes on
the verso; Argentoratenses Graecae Papyri (Programm,
Probable origins of this name: from Sayhad, name given by the
Islamic geographers to the Ramlat al-Sab'atayn desert, or from the
Arabic as-Said (Upper Egypt). The Bohairic, spoken in the Lower
Egypt, is the present liturgical Coptic language used. Other dialects:
Fayoumic, Akhimic and Licopolitan. An interesting work done on this
matter: Azevedo, Joaquim, A Simplified Coptic Dictionary (Sahidic
Dialect), Centro de Pesquisa de Literatura Bíblica, Tools for Exegesis,
CePLiB 1, Seminário Adventista Latino-Americano de Teologia, 2001.
Chassinat, 1921.
Some notes were given to me by Nicole Hansen from the Oriental
Institute of Chicago which I thank.
Pack, 1965: 126 (2346). In this work by Roger Pack there are about a
hundred references to fragments with medical texts dated from between
the IInd century BC (2344), and the IVth century AD (several) between
pages 126 -128. Many are surely re-editions from ancient Egyptian
texts, but there is no scientific evidence of that yet.
Pack, 1965: 37 (342).
Pack, 1965: 126 (2343).
Rostock 1901) 8-12 (Papyrus Strasburg inv.Gr.1,
centuries III-IV).
Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1384
From the Vth century AD, it has three medical
prescriptions for purge, a drink to ease urine, for wounds
and two healing legends.
1.11. Ostraca
Besides Papyri with relevance to the study of medicine
and health in ancient Egypt, there are ostraca with
therapeutical inscriptions that are important to
Ostracon Berlin 5570 – Three prescriptions for a non
specified disease
Ostracon Deir el-Medina 1062 – Proverb and magical
prescription for an eye disease
Ostracon Deir el-Medina 1091 – Two prescriptions for
skin treatment
Ostracon Deir el-Medina 1216 – Magic for abdominal
Ostracon Deir el-Medina 1242 Incomplete prescription
for a non specified disease
Ostracon Deir el-Medina 1414 Incomplete prescription
for a non specified disease
Ostracon Leiden 334 – Prescription for a non specified
Ostracon Louvre 3255 Prescription for a non specified
ear disease by fumigation
Ostracon London 297 – Prescription for a non specified
Ostracon Turin 57104 – List of body parts
Ostracon from Thebes at the Royal Ontario Museum – A
disease’s prevention
Ostracon Bodleian Greek 923 – Colirium prescription
Pack, 1965: 127 (2380).
Meyer, 1994: 31.
Medizinische Ostraka des Alten Ägyptens: http://www.medizinische-
Jonckheere, Frans, L'Ostracon médical du Louvre, Sudhoffs Archiv
für Geschichte der Medizin und der aturwissenschaften, Wiesbaden,
37,3/4, 278-282, November 1953; CdE XXIX, N° 57, 53-56, 1954.
Halioua, 2005.
Ostracon with a spell to prevent the attack of a demon. The body
parts where this demon should not «come in» are described. Theban
ostraca: Edited from the originals, now mainly in the Royal Ontario
Museum of Archaeology, Toronto, and the Bodleian Library, Oxford,
1913..According to the Griffith Institute, Oxford, ?50.28-9.
(Pack 2427), discovered at Thebes and written in the IVth century
AD, at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
1.12. Mummies
«...In fact, almost every mummy has a unique scent...»
The first report of radiological research done on an
Egyptian mummy was published by Petrie in 1898.
Our present knowledge of disease and health patterns has
been growing with the scientific study of Egyptian
mummified bodies, either to detect traces of trauma and
diseases or to examine parasites in the sarcophagi, as well
as the inscriptions in the sarcophagi, linen bandages and
amulets that cover the mummies.
The «covering bandage of the doctor’s equipment», the
HAyt nt Xn swnw, used the HAyt, a type of bandage used by
the priest that performs the mummification and also by
the doctor.
The mummification started to happen naturally in the
bodies left in the Egyptian underground, hot and dry,
being «hot-dried» by the sun; the very hot climate favours
the drying out of the body do body keeping it in a good
state of preservation. It is almost impossible today to try
and date the process beginnings as an usual practice, but
there are traces that it must have began, after visualizing
how the bodies left in the desert were preserved
around the IV Dynasty (2600 BC). Records of
mummification practice are only recorded in the New
Kingdom but the oldest mummies found until today, are
the ones from the Pre-Dynastic cemetery from
Hierakonpolis, HK43 in Upper Egypt, Wadi Khamsini.
Research in this cemetery began in 1996, and, after five
seasons, 260 graves were found containing close to 300
individuals, probably workers from the Naqada Period,
IIA-C (3600-3400 BC)
3.1. Origin of the word and analysis formula;
«mummy powder» as medicine
«...mummy: human remains, resin, wrapping, and all...»
So, where did this word come from, so connected to
ancient Egypt?
The word , scH
, (sarcophagus,
), meant mummy in ancient Egyptian,
but also bitumen or «bitumen material», as an allusion to
the black colour of the Egyptian mummified bodies when
unwrapped, this comes from the medieval Latin word
David, 2000: 12
Petrie, W.M.F., Deshasheh, 1897, Fifteenth memoir of the Egypt
Exploration Fund, London, 1898.
Győry, 2006: 1.
Moodie, 1931: 19.
David, 2000: 40.
Faulkner, 2006: 215.
Faulkner, 2006: 56.
, loaned from then Arabic mūmiyyah, ةيموم,
which means bitumen. According to Abdel Latif, an Arab
doctor of the XIIth century, who travelled to Egypt, this
substance would have its origin in the Persian mūmiya,
bitumen, as this was flowing down from a mountain and,
mixing with ice turned into water, originated this
substance that was thought to have medicinal
From the XIIth century onwards, travellers going to
Persia spoke about mummies with miraculous properties,
healing wounds instantly and mending broken bones.
When Persian travellers went to Egypt and saw the
mummified bodies covered by a black substance similar
to mummia, they misinterpreted it and mummia became
the name for the body covering and the body itself. Then,
a real ‘hunt for Egyptian mummies’ began. The highest
selling point in History would have been in the middle
Ages and again in the XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries.
Many boticaries diluted this substance in wine, honey or
water. In some cases the substance was not powdered, but
as pieces of the body or in a paste.
A surgeon from Bretagne, Ambrósio Paré (1510-1590),
was one of the first to criticize this medicine. His critic
was based upon what was told to him by Gui de la
Fontaine, doctor of the king from Navarra. He would
have travelled in 1564 to Alexandria. There he knew
about a Jew who dealt in mummies and this one
confessed that the bodies were not older than four
In 1658, Sir Thomas Browne, a philosopher, referred to
mummy powder as: «mummy is become merchandise,
mizraim cures wounds and pharaoh is sold for balsama»
and maybe before the XIIth century, doctors prescribed
this medicine to their patients.
The work Rates for the Custom House in London
mentions «crushed mummy»; and in 1657 the work The
Physical Dictionary contained the definition: «Mummy,
something like resin that is sold in boticaries; some say it
is extracted from ancient tombs». In Spain, Benito
Jerónimo Feijoo (1676-1764), a Benedictine monk,
Professor of Theology and Sacred Scriptures, a big
defender of ascetic medicine, was a big critic of mummy
The physician John Hall é is referenced as having used
this «medicine» in two of his patients:
«William Fortesque, aged 20, was troubled with the
Falling-sickness, by consent from the Stomach, as also
hypochondriac melancholy, with a depravation of both
It meant, in Latin, to lie down in aromatic resins, one of the last stage
of mummification procedures; Ebeid, 1999:422.
David and Tapp, 1993: 37.
Jofre, 2004:1.
Ebeid, 1999: 423; David e Tapp, 1993: 11.
In El Teatro Crítico Universal o Discursos varios en todo género de
materias para desengaño de errores comunes, tomo 4º Discurso 12: 25,
Feijoo speaks of mummy powder:; Jofre, 2004:
Health and Medicine in ancient Egypt: magic and science
Sense and Motion of the two middle Fingers of the Right-
hand" (p.50, observation XXIX); Melvin Earles'
comment: In this condition the patient exhibits a morbid
preoccupation with ill health. [...] at the onset of a fit the
patient was made to inhale a vapour formed by burning a
mixture of the aromatic resin benzoin, powdered
mummy, black pitch and juice of rue." (p. 55); Patient
Mr. P. (Observation XIII, page. 196) was "afflicted with a
Flux of Semen, and Night-pollutions, by which he was
much weakened". He had a pill prescribed with gum
Arabic, tragacanth gum, Armenian bole, carabe (amber),
mummy powder and Mandibule Lucii piscis
or jaw of
pike, all items believed to hinder or stop fluxes. Melvin
Earles comments in a footnote on p.197: "Mummy was
included in the London Pharmacopoeia of 1618. It was
said to pierce all parts, restore wasted limbs, cure
consumptions and ulcers, hinder blood coagulation and
stop fluxes. A shortage of the genuine article resulted in
recipes for making artificial mummy from the newly
dead" (cf. Webster's White Devil, I.1.17ff) »
In 1833, Thomas J. Pettigrew, later known as ‘Mummy
Pettigrew’, bought a mummy for 23 pounds when Henry
Salt’s collection was put to sale, and he unwrapped it at
the Charing Cross Hospital in London, where he was a
Professor of Anatomy. In 1834, he presented a mummy
to the Royal College of Surgeons and, in the next twenty
years, it was one mummy after another, always with a full
house. In 1852 Pettigrew mummified the body of
Alexander, the tenth Duke of Hamilton, by His request
The mummy was preserved in an Egyptian sarcophagus
in the Duke’s property mausoleum; he was a traveller to
Egypt, a collector for the British Museum, and for
Sir Marc Armand Ruffer (1859-1917), pioneer of
paleopathology, developed a formula to study the
mummified tissues softening them with alcohol and 5%
of sodium bicarbonate.
Ruffer says: «...Indeed, it is a
striking fact that up to the present I have never found
bitumen in any mummy, even in those of the Ptolemaic
period. (March 1911). »
Nevertheless we went from mummy powder as a
medicine to biochemical research in mummies with
scientifical purposes. The inorganic substances used in
mummification, according to Alfred Lucas
, would
have been natron and salt. In the resinous material from
the mummies’ bandages traces of natron are also found.
Lúcio (peixe de rio): http://web2.bium.univ-
Spindler, 1996: 5.
Ruffer, 1921: 64.
Ruffer, 1921: 21, 54.
Lucas, 1926: 110-125.
3.2.Ancient Egyptian words related to
-linen bandage
-embalming action
- linen bandage
-place of embalming
, wt
-embalmer, bandager
, wt
-mummy sarcophagus
, wi
-priest (pure)
, w'b
-purification tent
where the process of
mummification began and the body was
cleansed. Next to water (river or channel)
-place of embalming (temporary adobe buildings)
kitchen or refectory close to tomb, where the
body was taken to after being purified. The uabt
neb ut would have been the embalming place to
prepare the bodies of highest ranked individuals;
it was next to the adjacent tomb wt
Ex: tomb of Kai, priest of the kings Khufu and Khafre in
-«beautiful house»; funerary house
where the body
was eviscerated, dissected, embalmed, bandaged
with linen, soaked in resin and out into the
sarcophagus, pr nfr
Faulkner, 2006: 71.
Faulkner, 2006: 256.
Faulkner, 2006: 218.
Faulkner, 2006: 178.
Faulkner, 2006: 71. There is an alabaster embalming table, probably
from the IIIrd Dynasty, c. 2650 BC, found in the enclosure of Djoser’s
pyramid, in Saqqara.
Faulkner, 2006: 71.
Faulkner, 2006: 56.
Faulkner, 2006: 57.
Faulkner, 2006: 15.
Faulkner, 2006: 71.
Zahi A. Hawass, Opening the Lost Tombs: Live from Egypt, first TV
documentary about an Egyptian excavation for the Western world, done
by FOX, 1999.
Faulkner, 2006: 89.
3. 3. Process of mummification summarily described
The preservation of the human body after death was an
essential pre-condition to extend the existence of that
person. This ancient Egyptian thought is probably based
on the Myth of Osiris, the first mummy, made by Isis.
The written literature on this subject is detached from
Classical authors such as Herodotus (deceased c. 406 BC)
and Diodorus Sículus, about 440 years after the first.
Their descriptions may not represent exactly the practices
done over a thousand years before their existence, when
embalming deceased people was common in ancient
The Embalming Ritual is described in two Papyri,
probably copied from the same ancient source, dating
from the Greco-Roman period, and housed in Cairo:
Papyrus Bulaq 3, and at the Louvre, Papyrus 5158.
this last one, the embalming is said to begin only four
days after death, the linen bandaging 46 days after, so 42
days are left for the rituals. They used incense oil
the used resin worked as glue so it should be sticky to
make the linen bandages stick well.
There are also references to this ritual in the Rhind
Papyrus (c. 1650 BC, where the scribe Ahmes
that he copied this text from an ancient document from
the XIIth Dynasty, c. 1800 BC), housed today at the
British Museum.
Studying the process of mummification and its
procedures has been supplying new information about
what treatment was given to the bodies of the deceased
and, even better for our kind of research, diseases, diet,
daily life and family interactions in ancient Egypt.
Regarding children and infant’s mummification there are
scarce examples from the beginning of the XXth
A detail: the Seven Sacred Oils mentioned in the Opening
of the Mouth Ritual in the Pyramid Texts. These oils
were also used for medicinal purposes, perfumes and
massages, as well as for kitchen use and home lighting.
There are examples of little tables with seven cavities for
the Seven Oils with hieroglyphic inscriptions as the one
found in the tomb of Qar, a physician from Saqqara.
At the centennial commemorations of the Egyptian
Museum in Cairo, one of these tables, contained the
following inscriptions, from left to right: Sethh-heb,
perfume used in the festival; sefeth, unknown; hekenu,
from the first class resins ab and antiu, to oint the divine
Colombini, 2000: 19; Brier, Wade, 2001: 1.
Fragranced resins, Boswellia africana and arabica was used in the
embalmment, as well as the Sudanese Boswellia papyrifera Rich; Liber
Or Ahmose, that lived in the Second Intermediate Period. University
of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA:
Moodie, 1931: 19.
members (formula at the wall from the temple of Edfu
next to the king’ statue); nemu, unknown; tUSAt,
unknown; ha-ach (from the Conifera tree, Albies alba,
cedar tree); haentehennu (from Libia).
More examples of these tables can be seen at the British
Museum (6122, 6123, 29421).
Mummification was a religious practice but it can also be
seen as a precocious scientific activity that gave the
embalmers much knowledge about the human body.
The techniques used in the analysis of Egyptian
mummified bodies have developed from the X-rays to
endoscopies (a different equipment used in mummies
from the one used in living people as mummies have no
fluids), to CAT scans (computerized axial tomography),
and more recently to DNA studies. In 1985 Svante Pääbo,
a Swedish molecular biologist from the Uppsala
University, extracted DNA from an Egyptian mummy,
although his results cannot be reproduced.
Herodotus’ reports continue, nevertheless, to be the most
The embalmer extracted the brain out
through the nasal cavity with the help of a hook, breaking
the ethmoid bone
and twisting the hook (usually a
bronze one) to liquefy the brain matter and ease it out
through the nostrils. Next, the cavity was filled with
resin, bitumen and unguents. A spoon was used to do
this, covering the cavities (inside of the skull and
nostrils). Once they considered the heart the centre for
emotions and thinking, brain matter was discarded as they
found no useful or sacred meaning for that. From the IVth
Dynasty onwards evisceration was practised doing a left
incision on the abdomen, with an obsidian knife
afterwards removing the organs by hand.
There are cases found were evisceration was not practised
and others where
an evisceration per anum was
In the precise spot where the incision was
made, it is sometimes found a Horus eye drawn as to
protect the body entry/exit.
The ancient Egyptian divided the body in 36 parts; each
one ruled by either a dean or a demon, who presided the
triple divisions from the twelve signs of the Zodiac. A
sort of ‘theological anatomy’ was made by Champollion,
based upon the ‘great funereal Ritual or book of
Budge, 1996: 30;
Budge, 1996: 30.
Fleming, Fishman, O’Connor, Silverman, 1980.
David, 2000: 150.
David, Tapp, 1993: 42.
David, 2000: 70.
Sharp knife from Ethiopia: Ebeid, 1999: 427; David, Tapp, 1993: 44;
obsidian is a volcanic glass from outside Egypt (Ethiopia) documented
in several collections (different knifes) Manchester Museum (a piece of
obsidian), Petrie Museum, London.
Ebeid, 1999: 431,434.
David, Tapp, 1993: 44.
Pettigrew, 1838: 11.
Pettigrew, 1838: 12: “...This is expressed, on various mummy-cases,
in hieroglyphics.
Health and Medicine in ancient Egypt: magic and science
The deceased body rested in natron for different periods,
according to the financial possibilities of his/her family;
the wealthiest for seventy days (observing Sirius star)
and the bandages were changed as they became soaked in
body fluids. The use of natron as a drying agent for an
accentuated natural desiccation, the quantities used and
its quality visibly affected (as seen in mummies’
examples) is reflected in the state of preservation of the
bodies. Little quantities or a frequent and repeated use of
the same quantity reduced the efficacy. Natron is
chemically a mixture of sodium carbonate and
found in natural deposits of Egypt, in the
Wadi Natrun area its composition varying between
different amounts of sodium carbonate, chlorate and
sulphate. It also contains clay and calcium carbonate in
lesser quantities. The impurities of sodium chlorate and
affects the efficacy of it’s’ use.
The organs left inside the body, wrapped in linen
bandages and soaked in resins served this practice,
discontinued from the Greco-Roman period onwards.
After the desiccation by natron period the last stage of
mummification took place; the sarcophagus enclosing.
The skin was soaked in melted resin, covering it, and this
strengthened and helped close pores in skin so humidity
would not damage the body.
The heart was wrapped and protected by amulets, usually
a stone scarab inscribed with the chapter 30 from The
Book of The Dead requesting a favourable testimony at
the Final Judgement. The body was then completely
wrapped, sometimes with amulets, and amulet-papyri
magical spells written in individual rolls of papyrus;
some were used also in life by its owner, and carried to
the final journey as well.
Papyrus Heidelberg G1359, as it is folded, suggests it
could have been used as such;
also Papyrus Michigan
3023a is rolled and bended to serve as an amulet.
Amulets are, in most cases, elements of funerary purpose
but, both literature and archaeology have shown that its
protective function was also used in life with great
characters ; and may we not in this trace the first attempt to assign the
different parts of the body to the several planets…”,
Ebeid, 1999: 443.
Ebeid, 1999: 437-442. Sodium carbonate (Na
). Sodium
bicarbonate (NaHCO
Sodium chlorate (NaCl). Sodium sulfate (Na
David, Tapp, 1993: 43. Melanie Sapsford is a specialist on these
matters, finishing a PhD on chemicals of ancient Egypt at the DCMT
Cranfield University, Royal Military College of Science.
Luxor Mummification Museum Catalogue, 1997
Oracle or amulet-papyri.
Pinch, 1994: 116-117; Fleming, Fishman, O’Connor, Silverman,
1980: 22. An example from the Louvre, Paris, n.3233, has a short
magical formula with prophylactic drawings to protect a child, casting
away evils from the year and praying to Sekhmet among other deities;
Goyon, 1977: 45-54.
Meyer e Smith, 1994: 30.
Meyer e Smith, 1994: 250.
The organs that were considered to be essential in another
life were preserved, in canopic vases
. They were four
and their lids/heads were represented by the four sons of
Horus: Duamutef, Imsety, Kebehsenuef and Hapi, and,
protecting those, four different deities, as shown below.
There are theories regarding Imsety: should she be a
female element and not a hermaphrodite as other theories
state because she is fair skinned and the face features are
female. There are representations of the late period that
show Imsety as a woman
. Maybe because her name
ends with a t (sign for female in hieroglyphic writing) is a
Until the IVth century AD, mummification was frequent
but then started to decline as the growing Christian
community did not request this ritual. In the Vth century
mummies were not made anymore and so this cultural
element of Egypt was lost.
The lungs, intestines, stomach and liver were treated with
resins and bandaged to stay in their canopic vases. But in
other cases mummies have these organs placed again
inside the body in situ.
A change of time, a change of
Protective deity
Head Organ Cardinal
Imseti Isis Human Liver Sul
Hapi Nephtys Babuíno
Lungs Norte
Duamutef Neit Chacal Stomach Este
Kebehsenuef Serket Falcão Intestines
3. 4. Example cases of analyzed Egyptian mummies
A small introductory note regarding the analysis of
mummified bodies in Egypt is given by Denon: «the
number of bodies not bandaged showed that circumcision
was known and generally practised, that depilation in
women women was not performed as today, that their
hair were straight and long…»
We can conclude from
this that, in 1798 female depilation was common
although not as usual as today and that the long and
straight hair seen by Denon in these mummies should
have been natural hair and not wigs.
With the discovery of the X-rays by Roentgen in 1895
and subsequent development of radiology, a fundamental
step was made in medical diagnosis’ possibilities. The
identification of DNA, developed and used technique in
The origin of the name comes from the town of Canopus, West of
Alexandria, near modern Abu Qir. Canopus was revered as a form of
Osiris at Abu Qir symbolized by a globular vase, Aufderheide, 2003:
“…a young woman dressed in green kneels in front of an
anthropomorphic deity (Imsety?)..”, http://www.virtual-egyptian-
Fleming, Fishman, O’Connor, Silverman, 1980: 50.
Pettigrew, 1838: 11.
Denon, 2004: 270.
1985, improved in 1991 with Polymerase Chain Reaction
(PCR), where DNA can be cloned to produce multiple
copies of specific regions was the next step to improve
biomedical research. This method also shows genetic
correlation between individuals (family ties).
The digital genetic imprint of an individual is influenced
by the genes of his/her relatives, being mitochondrial
DNA inherited from the mother, and nuclear DNA from
the two breeders, a much more difficult sample to get.
The limitations in DNA studies result from its
decomposition with time, when the sequences are broken,
and this can bring false results.
In the mummy desiccation process by natron, depilation
is forced and nails are destroyed. A substance that
included potassium (K), phosphorus (P), iron (Fe),
magnesium (Mn) and zinc (Zn), was then used for
cosmetic purposes to rebuild the nails or in another
option, they were sewn with thread.
The participating teams in projects like these, that analyze
mummies, are composed of several professional
specialists Egyptologists, radiologists, anthropologists,
paleobotanists, entomologists, chemists, histopatologists,
computer technicians, textiles’ conservators and
geneticists. This is not a work to be done by one
individual only and so it is justifiable to put together
theory with practice; letters and sciences, researchers,
professors and students. The exam must be followed by
autopsy, if possible, to confirm the results. The following
are mere summary examples from reports regarding
mummies found that were studied in which some diseases
were found.
TT99 –Sennefer Tomb in Western Thebes
Two cases are to be mentioned in the mummies found in
this tomb. The first is a male skull with several holes of
different sizes but all with typical characteristics of
metastasis from a meningioma that spread through the
whole body
. A small number of cancers spread from
soft tissue to bone
and, in a man the most probable
cause could be lung cancer. The incidence of lung cancer
in ancient Egypt is relatively low and is only related to
smoking habits in modern world; a case of bone cancer in
Prof. Eugénia Cunha in a session of Forensic Anthropology at the
Instituto de Medicina Legal de Lisboa (Forensic Institute), February
Secrets of the Ancient World Revealed Through DA, presentation
from Scott Woodward, professor of Microbiology at Brigham Young
University in April, 2001 summarized by Judy Greenfield in Journal of
The Egyptian Study Society, volume 12 no. 1, 2001:.1-4.
Cancer that originates in the dura mater, the bony covering of the
skull, that spreads and grows in diameter. It can pressure the skull and
cause death. In this case the tumor was small and it was thought not to
be the primary cause for death.
Campillo, 2001: 150; 279; Ruffer, 1921: 50.
Antiquity is of considerable importance. A study of this
tomb’s material tomb, published in the Journal of
eurology, eurosurgery and Psychiatry in 2001, reveals
that two of the mummies suffered from Parry-Romberg
syndrome. This syndrome is a progressive disease in
which bones from the sides of the face disintegrate and
this can lead to epilepsy. Three of the skulls had the eyes
turned inside, an abnormality connected to the central
nervous system. One of the mummies could have suffered
from diabetes mellitus; because it showed oval eyes
(corectopy) and 24% of diabetic people suffer from
corectopy. According to the researchers of this tomb,
paleoneurology (paleontology and neurology) enables the
research for neurological diseases in the mummified
Egyptian bodies, dead over two thousand years ago, even
when there are no traces of the neurological system to be
Tomb TT320 or Deir el-Bahari DB320
From the discoveries made in 1881, revealed after the
confession of the Rassul brothers, tomb thieves, these
bodies were found brought from different graves in the
reigns of Psusennes I (1039-991 BC) and Sheshonk I
(945-924 BC.). The 36 mummies were studied and
numbered in ten days by Tony Waldron in 1998 and then
by Helen and Nigel Strudwick in 2001 and again by Tony
Waldron in 2002. The mummified Egyptian found in this
tomb seem to have all died of natural death or by wounds
inflicted in battle. Some are of curious importance, n.
, Seqenenre-Taa II, who died in battle against the
He seems to have been stabbed behind one ear
because he shows a crushed face, probably with a mace,
deep wounds below the right eye and