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Surgery on papyrus

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 01 September 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:0409338
  1. Bishoy Sobhy Morris Faltas, final year medical student1
  1. 1Assiut University, Egypt

Three and a half thousand years ago, Egyptian doctors were treating some surgical complaints in the same way as today. Bishoy Morris takes a look at Edwin Smith's papyrus, one of the oldest known surgical texts

3000 bc: dawn of history

Around the time when the great pyramids were being built, another great work of science was written--the Edwin-Smith surgical papyrus.12

ad 1862: the light comes forth again

Edwin Smith, an american egyptologist went to Luxor and bought an ancient roll of manuscript that was found in a tomb. Smith immediately recognised the papyrus as a surgical text and tried to make a tentative translation. Smith died in 1906; his daughter donated the papyrus to New York's historical society.

ad 1930: a great man and a great papyrus

At the request of New York's historical society, James Henry Breasted, director of the oriental institute at the University of Chicago accomplished the tremendous task of translating the papyrus and published his findings along with medical notes prepared by Arno Luckhardt.1234 The original author remained unknown, although Breasted speculated that it could be Imhotep, prime minister of pharaoh Djoser (third dynasty), an architect and an eminent doctor, who was deified later by Egyptians as the god of medicine.1

ad 2003: still amazing

Edwin Smith's papyrus still amazes the world with its clarity and diagnostic accuracy; its secrets are being rediscovered every day. Although many other medical papyruses have been discovered, such as the Ebers medical papyrus and the Kahun gynaecological papyrus, Smith's excels in accuracy and scientific approach. It is the oldest surgical treatise discovered to date.3


In contrast to many old medical texts, which were usually irritating with unclearness and …

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