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Views & Reviews Medical Classics

The Edwin Smith papyrus

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 16 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1598
  1. Wendy Moore, freelance writer and author, London
  1. wendymoore{at}

The ancient Egyptians were a primitive people whose approach to medicine was founded entirely on magic and superstition. Or so the Western world smugly believed until their illusions were shattered by the translation in 1930 of the Edwin Smith papyrus.

The US Egyptologist Edwin Smith (1822–1906) had acquired the 22 page scroll from a dealer in Luxor in 1862, but left it to gather dust while he concentrated on the more exciting business of opening tombs. On his death his daughter gave the unread text to the New York Historical Society, and it was 1920 before the society asked historian James Breasted to translate it. What Breasted discovered …

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