HEALTH CARE IN ANCIENT EGYPT
Egyptians used herbs and drugs as medicines and used splints to set broken bones. Anatomical knowledge appears to have been based more on animals than humans. Some surgery was done. Skulls with holes in them have been found.
The Egyptians had dentists and obstetricians. Egyptian physicians often specialized in a specific part of the body, such as the stomach, eyes and bowels.
Bodies were believed to have been cut open with obsidian blades. Bronze and copper knives were not sharp enough. In lieu of anesthesia patients were perhaps knocked on the head. The oldest set of bronze surgical blades dates to 2300 B.C. Medicines were made by a hierarchy of medicine makers that included a "chief preparer of drugs," "collectors of drugs," "preparers," "preparer's aides," and a “conservator of drugs" (in charge of storing drugs).
Studies have shown that providing clean water and sanitation can bring about tremendous benefits. People live longer, stay healthier and become productive while health care costs go down. People have realized the importance of clean water for some time. A tomb from ancient Egypt dated to 1450 B.C. depicts an elaborate filtering system. The ancient Greeks and especially the Romans devoted a lot of energy and resources to clean water.
Christina Riggs of the University of East Anglia wrote: “Medical papyri, spells for healing, and physical anthropology are three sources for understanding the body and disease in ancient Egypt. There was minimal allowance in Egyptian art for the representation of disease or deformity... Illness, aging, and, after death, putrefaction were conceptualized in the Egyptian world-view as bodily problems that could be countered by healing, fertility and rejuvenation, and the process of mummification, thereby restoring function and wholeness to the human body.” [Source: Christina Riggs, University of East Anglia, UK, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org ]
Dendara (near Qena, 40 kilometers north of Luxor) is the home of the Temple of Hathor, dedicated to the cow-headed goddess of healing. In ancient times, Dendara was associated with healing. Patients who traveled there for cures were housed in special buildings where they could rest, sleep, and commune with the gods in their dreams.
Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Ancient Egypt Magazine ancientegyptmagazine.co.uk; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Egyptian Study Society, Denver egyptianstudysociety.com; The Ancient Egypt Site ancient-egypt.org; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk
Treatment in Ancient Egypt
Joyce M Filer, an Egyptologist and expert on mummies and ancient Egyptian health issues, wrote for the BBC: “What help was there for ancient Egyptians when they were still alive? Herodotus, writing during the fifth century B.C., stated that the Egyptians had doctors who specialised in particular areas of the body, and indeed Egyptian physicians appear to have been famed in other parts of the ancient world. [Source: Joyce M Filer, BBC, February, 17, 2011 |::|]
massage “Ancient Egypt is justly famed for its literary output, and a certain class of texts-called magical-medical texts-gives us some indication of the doctors' treatments. As the name implies, the treatments involve elements of religious incantations, and medications concocted from a variety of substances so noxious as to drive away the demons that the Egyptians believed had brought the illness to the sufferer. |::|
“We have no direct information about treatment for diseases such as tuberculosis, polio or arthritis but no doubt, to judge from the variety of recipes in medical texts, any medication would involve fairly revolting ingredients. Dung from various animals, fat from cats, fly droppings and even cooked mice are just a small selection of the range of remedies the Egyptian doctor could recommend as treatment. |::|
Rosalie David, professor at the University of Manchester, in the United Kingdom told CNN that the ancient Egyptians produced magical spells used to treat cancer-like illnesses, a few of which are described in papyri. One odd treatment for what may have been cancer of the uterus called for breaking up a stone in water, leaving it overnight, and then pouring it into the vagina. Another remedy described was fumigation: The patient would sit over something that was burning, David told CNN, adding that it’s still not certain that the maladies described were cancer.
Ancient Egyptian Medical Knowledge and Mummification
According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “The Egyptians were advanced medical practitioners for their time. They were masters of human anatomy and healing mostly due to the extensive mummification ceremonies. This involved removing most of the internal organs including the brain, lungs, pancreas, liver, spleen, heart and intestine. The Egyptians had (and this is an understatement) a basic knowledge of organ functions within the human body (save for the brain and heart which they thought had opposite functions). This knowledge of anatomy, as well as (in the later dynasties) the later crossover of knowledge between the Greeks and other culture areas, led to an extensive knowledge of the functioning of the organs, and branched into many other medical practices. Further, it was not uncommon in both early and later dynasties for scholars from ancient Greece and other parts of the Mediterranean to study the medical practitioners of Ancient Egypt. Of the most notable of these traveling scholars was, Herodotus and Pliny, both Greek scholars, whose contribution to the ancient and modern medical records, reached from the time of Ancient Egypt and into the modern era. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com \+\]
“Though the Egyptians were effective healers, they did not have a clear knowledge of cellular biology or of germ theory, so it would be inappropriate to attribute the use of Yeast's as an antibiotic; as the curative effects behind the use of antibiotics were not known until well into modern times. Yet one must admire the ingenuity of the Egyptians, which undoubtedly has it's place within the compendium of human medical history. The largest of these medicinal compendiums was compiled by Hermes (a healer of Greek origin who studied in Egypt), and consisted of six books. The first of these six books was directly related to anatomy, the rest served as a book of physic, and as apothecaries. Though Hermes was not the first to compile much of the information about Egyptian medical practices, beginning early on with the pharaoh Athothes (the second king of Egypt), the Egyptians are credited with being the first to use and record advanced medical practices. \+\
Christina Riggs of the University of East Anglia wrote: “The anatomical knowledge gained through the practice of mummification may have contributed to Egyptian conceptions of the sectioned or fragmented body, and it certainly informed Egyptian medical practices. Evidence from medical papyri and from surviving mummies reveals that the Egyptians recognized the role of the brain, were generally familiar with blood circulation, and could treat wounds and broken limbs, and nurture the physically disabled or frail. Gynecological health is a concern of medical papyri from el-Lahun, suggesting that male doctors sometimes treated female patients; however, as in almost all traditional cultures, childbirth was probably attended only by women. The bodily processes of gestation, birth, and breastfeeding were the basis of some elite cultural formulations in visual culture and ritual activities, such as the iconography of Isis and Horus, and perhaps the performance of the Opening of the Mouth. [Source: Christina Riggs, University of East Anglia, UK, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org ]
Medical Papyri from Ancient Egypt
One of the most informative documents on Egyptian medical practices is the Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus. It was written around 1700 B.C. but most of the information is based on texts written around 2640 B.C., Imhotep’s time. The papyrus mainly describes wounds, and how to treat them, and has surprisingly little to say about diseases. It describes 48 surgical treatments for injures of the head, neck, shoulders, breast and chest and contains a list of instruments — including lint, swabs, bandage, adhesive plaster, surgical stitches and cauterization tools — used in treatments and surgeries, plus instructions on how to sutur a wound using a needle and thread It is also the earliest document to make a study of the brain.. [Source: Page of Egyptian Medicine, discoveringegypt.com]
Joyce M Filer wrote for the BBC: The Edwin Smith Surgical Papyrus, named after its modern owner, “describes 48 cases of injury to the face, head, neck and upper spine. In each case a prognosis is given and, if this is favourable, suitable treatment is recommended. One case, number 11, describes the management of a broken nose, and the treatment, involving rolls of lint within the nostrils and external bandaging, can hardly be bettered even by modern doctors. As might be expected, no treatment is recommended for patients deemed fatally injured. The wise ancient Egyptian physician knew when a patient was beyond help. [Source: Joyce M Filer, BBC, February, 17, 2011 |::|]
At excerpt from the Edwin Smith papyrus on curing "Stupid Vision" reads: "Take the water (humor) contained in pigs eyes, take true antimony, red lead, natural honey, of each 1 Ro [about 15 cc]; pulverize it finely and combine it into one mass which should be injected into the ear of the patient and he will be cured immediately. Do and thou shalt see. Really excellent! Thou shalt recite as a spell: I have brought this which was applied to the seat of yonder and replaces the horrible suffering. Twice." ~
The Ebert papyrus is longer and more comprehensive. It runs for the equivalent of 110 pages and has 877 remedies. The papyrus is organized on treating particular parts of the body, but has sections on the head, toes, fingers and eyes. It also include remedies to parasitic stomach diseases and a small section on the heart. Among other things it say that a depressed skull fracture looks like a puncture in a pottery jar. ~
A text called the “Handbook of Ritual Power” — from the Coptic era but presumably based on some ancient Egyptian pratcices — tells readers how to cast love spells, exorcise evil spirits and treat “black jaundice,” a sometimes fatal bacterial infection that is still around today.
Health Care for Ancient Egyptian Workers: Sick Leave and Lots of Paperwork
Stanford archaeologist Anne Austin is involved in the excavation of the artisans village of Deir el-Medina, near Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, where she told the Washington Post residents were beneficiaries of what she calls "the world's first documented health-care plan." "There was definitely a lot of paperwork we still don't understand the purpose of, or why it has the level of detail that it does," Austin told The Post, noting that exacting documentation of worker sick days, for example, is not always reflected by a deduction in their pay. "It seems like they were documenting things because they had to record them, but not necessarily because they planned to use the information." [Source: Peter Holley, Washington Post, November 22, 2014 <+>]
Peter Holley wrote in the Washington Post, “The more the Stanford scholar dug into the lives of the highly skilled craftsmen hired to build tombs for Egyptian pharaohs...the more similarities she found” to modern health care. “Workers who spent their weeks away from home... could take "paid sick leave" or "visit a clinic for a checkup," Austin said. During the 19th dynasty of Egypt and the 12th (1292-1077 B.C.), when workers were primarily housed in the area, there were even two separate health-care networks at Deir el-Medina, Austin told the Stanford News. The first was a "professional state-subsidized network" for workers; the other was a private network for family and friends. <+>
“"What surprised me was seeing the ways people who were associated with the workmen were provided for," Austin said. "There is evidence to suggest work men would get time off to take care of wives and daughters when they were menstruating.""For decades," according to a Stanford news release, "Egyptologists have seen evidence of these health-care benefits in the well preserved written records from the site." But Austin was the first to lead a "detailed study of human remains at the site." <+>
“Despite many of the workers being skilled artists who were well-treated and compensated with rations, Austin--a postdoctoral scholar in Stanford's history department and a specialist in osteo-archaeology--was able to determine that the grueling work took a serious toll on the men's bodies. Making the weekly hike from their family homes to a temporary work camp in Deir el-Medina was equivalent to climbing the Great Pyramid of Giza, due to steep changes in elevation. Their daily trek, with gear and equipment, into the Valley of the Kings and back, was the same as descending and ascending a 36-story building, Austin said. Today, the distance is about 1,000 stone steps. "Arthritis is something you could easily see in the bones," Austin said. "It was mostly concentrated in the workers' knees and ankles." <+>
“And yet, despite access to "uniquely comprehensive health care," workers didn't always take advantage of it, Austin said. One man continued working despite suffering from a condition known as osteomyelitis, the result of a blood-borne infection. Austin was able to determine the man had the condition by studying his mummified remains. "The remains suggest that he would have been working during the development of this infection," Austin told Stanford News. This suggested that the man might have felt pressure to continue. "Rather than take time off, for whatever reason, he kept going," she said.” <+>
Doctors in Ancient Egypt
The Egyptians were one of the first people to have practicing physicians. The oldest known physician, Imhotep, lived around 2725 B.C. He was also a high official, the designer of famous Step Pyramid and astrologer who achieved such high status that he made into a god. [Source: Page of Egyptian Medicine ~]
Egyptian doctors were fairly knowledgeable about the human body. They studied the structure of the brain, and knew that the pulse was related to the heart. They could cure many illnesses and set broken bones. There is evidence Doctors in Ancient Egypt underwent years of training at temple schools in areas such as interrogation, inspection, and palpation. Some surgery was done. Skulls with holes in them have been found. ~
Like modern doctors, Ancient Egyptian doctors gave out prescriptions for medicines. One from the Ptolemaic era, written in Greek, contained lead monoxide as one of its ingredients Surgical tools used by a Egyptian doctors included: knives, adrill, saw, forceps or pincers, censer, hooks, bags tied with string, beaked vessel, vase with burning incense, Horus eyes, scales, pot with flowers of Upper and Lower Egypt, pot on pedestal, graduated cubit or papyrus, scroll without side knot (or a case holding reed scalpels), shears, spoons. ~
The Temple of Sobek and Horus in Kom Ombo in Aswan contains sculpted wall reliefs with images of surgical instruments, bone saws and dental tools. The Cairo Museum has a collection of surgical instruments which include scalpels, scissors, copper needles, forceps, spoons, lancets, hooks, probes and pincers. [Source: Mark Millmore,discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com ^^^]
According to Minnesota State University, Mankato: “Though Egyptian medical practices by no means could rival that of the present day physicians, Egyptian healers engaged in surgery, prescriptive, and many other healing practices still found today. Among the curatives used by the Egyptians were all types of plant (herbs and other plants), animal (all parts nearly) and mineral compounds. The use of these compounds led to an extensive compendium of curative recipes, some still available today. For example, yeast was recognized for its healing qualities and was applied to leg ulcers and swellings. Yeast's were also taken internally for digestive disorders and were an effective cure for ulcers.” [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com]
“The practices of Egyptian medical practitioners ranged from embalming to faith healing to surgery and autopsy. The use of autopsy came through the extensive embalming practices of the Egyptians, as it was not unlikely for an embalmer to examine the body for a cause of the illness which caused death. The use of surgery also evolved from a knowledge of the basic anatomy and embalming practices of the Egyptians. From such careful observations made by the early medical practitioners of Egypt, healing practices began to center upon both the religious rituals and the lives of the ancient Egyptians. \+\
Magic Used for Healing in Ancient Egypt
Dr Geraldine Pinch of Oxford University wrote for the BBC: “Magic was not so much an alternative to medical treatment as a complementary therapy. Surviving medical-magical papyri contain spells for the use of doctors, Sekhmet priests and scorpion-charmers. The spells were often targeted at the supernatural beings that were believed to be the ultimate cause of diseases. Knowing the names of these beings gave the magician power to act against them. [Source: Dr Geraldine Pinch, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]
“Since demons were thought to be attracted by foul things, attempts were sometimes made to lure them out of the patient's body with dung; at other times a sweet substance such as honey was used, to repel them. Another technique was for the doctor to draw images of deities on the patient's skin. The patient then licked these off, to absorb their healing power. |::|
“Many spells included speeches, which the doctor or the patient recited in order to identify themselves with characters in Egyptian myth. The doctor may have proclaimed that he was Thoth, the god of magical knowledge who healed the wounded eye of the god Horus. Acting out the myth would ensure that the patient would be cured, like Horus. Collections of healing and protective spells were sometimes inscribed on statues and stone slabs (stelae) for public use. A statue of King Ramesses III (c.1184-1153 B.C.), set up in the desert, provided spells to banish snakes and cure snakebites. |::|
Some have inscriptions describing how Horus was poisoned by his enemies, and how Isis, his mother, pleaded for her son's life, until the sun god Ra sent Thoth to cure him. The story ends with the promise that anyone who is suffering will be healed, as Horus was healed. The power in these words and images could be accessed by pouring water over the cippus. The magic water was then drunk by the patient, or used to wash their wound. |::|
Ancient Egyptian Medicines
Homer called the ancient Egyptians "a race of druggists." Hieroglyphics depicting senna leaves, a cathartic found in Egypt and one of the world's first known medicines, were found in the tomb of a court physician dating back to 4500 B.C. A variety of medicines were mentioned in the Petri Papyrus (1850 B.C.) and Ebers Papyrus (1550 B.C.). Many of the drugs named in these papyruses---rambling collections of hieroglyphic prescriptions and incantations---are still used today.
Ox liver---a good source of Vitamin A---was prescribed for night blindness. Patients with severe wounds were told to eat the mold from bread which later yielded penicillin. Castor plants were pressed into oil as a treatment for a variety of ailments. Pods from opium poppies were given to relieve pain. [Source: Lonnelle Aikman, National Geographic, September 1974]
The earliest known laxatives used in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, were made from ground senna pods and yellowish castor oil around 2500 B.C. Indigestion medicines were made from peppermint leaves and carbonates (antacids) and ethyl alcohol for pain relief.
The Egyptians used small doses of poisonous plants such as the deadly nightshade and thorn apple. A bas-relief shows Queen Nefertiti offering mandrake, a pain killer, to her ailing husband. The Egyptians also used onions to treat scurvy, aloe to relive upset stomachs and henbane as a sedative. Hard candies were used as cough drops. Other "recipes" seem a little impractical today. Parents, for example, were advised to give colicky babies "fly dirt that on the wall."
Cures in the Papyrus Ebers
Ancient Egyptians cures listed in the Papyrus Ebers: 1) Cure for Diarrhea: 1/8th cup figs and grapes, bread dough, pit corn, fresh Earth, onion, and elderberry. 2) Cure for Indigestion: Crush a hog's tooth and put it inside of four sugar cakes. Eat for four days. 3) Cure for Lesions of the Skin:After the scab has fallen off put on it: Scribe's excrement. Mix in fresh milk and apply as a poultice. [Source: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com, Bob, Brier, “Ancient Egyptian Magic,” Quill Press: New York, 1981 \+\]
4) Cure for Burns: Create a mixture of milk of a woman who has borne a male child, gum, and, ram's hair. While administering this mixture say: Thy son Horus is burnt in the desert. Is there any water there? There is no water. I have water in my mouth and a Nile between my thighs. I have come to extinguish the fire. \+\
5) Cure for Cataracts: Mix brain-of-tortoise with honey. Place on the eye and say: There is a shouting in the southern sky in darkness, There is an uproar in the northern sky, The Hall of Pillars falls into the waters. The crew of the sun god bent their oars so that the heads at his side fall into the water, Who leads hither what he finds? I lead forth what I find. I lead forth your heads. I lift up your necks. I fasten what has been cut from you in its place. I lead you forth to drive away the god of Fevers and all possible deadly arts. \+\
Some common plants used in medicine by the Egyptians were: figs, grapes, bread dough, onions and elderberries. 1) Castor oil, figs and dates were used as laxatives. Tannic acid was valued by the Egyptians, because it helped heal burns. It was usually derived from acacia nuts. Coriander was considered to be a cooling stimulant with carminative and digestive properties. It was consumed in a tea for stomach illnesses. [Source: Page of Egyptian Medicine]
Herodotus on the Egyptian Heath and Their Cure for Blindness
“Among the Egyptians themselves, those who live in the cultivated country are the most assiduous of all men at preserving the memory of the past, and none whom I have questioned are so skilled in history. They practice the following way of life. For three consecutive days in every month they purge themselves, pursuing health by means of emetics and drenches; for they think that it is from the food they eat that all sicknesses come to men. Even without this, the Egyptians are the healthiest of all men, next to the Libyans; the explanation of which, in my opinion, is that the climate in all seasons is the same: for change is the great cause of men's falling sick, more especially changes of seasons. They eat bread, making loaves which they call “cyllestis,”37 of coarse grain. For wine, they use a drink made from barley, for they have no vines in their country. They eat fish either raw and sun-dried, or preserved with brine. Quails and ducks and small birds are salted and eaten raw; all other kinds of birds, as well as fish (except those that the Egyptians consider sacred) are eaten roasted or boiled. 78.
In a story about the son of Ramses II, Herodotus wrote in Book 2 of “Histories”: “When he had been blind for ten years, an oracle from the city of Buto declared to him that the term of his punishment was drawing to an end, and that he would regain his sight by washing his eyes with the urine of a woman who had never had intercourse with any man but her own husband. Pheros tried his own wife first; and, as he remained blind, all women, one after another. When he at last recovered his sight, he took all the women whom he had tried, except the one who had made him see again, and gathered them into one town, the one which is now called “Red Clay”; having concentrated them together there, he burnt them and the town; but the woman by whose means he had recovered his sight, he married. Most worthy of mention among the many offerings which he dedicated in all the noteworthy temples for his deliverance from blindness are the two marvellous stone obelisks which he set up in the temple of the Sun. Each of these is made of a single block, and is over one hundred and sixty-six feet high and thirteen feet thick.” [Source: Herodotus, “The Histories”, Egypt after the Persian Invasion, Book 2, English translation by A. D. Godley. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 1920, Tufts]
Ancient Egyptian Medicinal Wines
The ancient Egyptians drank alcoholic beverages with medicinal herbs and other ingredients, according to a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2009. The beverages, the oldest of which was an wine dated to 3150 B.C., were chemically analyzed to determine their ingredients, revealing the first direct chemical evidence of wines with organic medical additives. “The ancient Egyptians settled on adding herbs and other ingredients that had marked medicinal effects, probably just based on observational trial and error,” Patrick McGovern, an archaeochemist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum and lead author of the paper, told Discovery News. “Of course superstitions crept in too, such as when they would throw in a root because it resembled a certain body part, but we think there was some medical truth behind a lot of their wine additives.” [Source: Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News, April 14,2009 ><]
Jennifer Viegas wrote in Discovery News, “He and colleagues Armen Mirzoian and Gretchen Hall chemically analyzed residues found inside a jar excavated from the tomb of one of Egypt’s first pharaohs, Scorpion I. They also conducted chemical tests on a later amphora, dating to the 4the to 6th centuries A.D., from Gebel Adda in southern Egypt. Both containers tested positive for wine with medicinal additives. The scientists determined Scorpion I’s drink consisted of grape wine to which a sliced fig had been added, probably to start and sustain the fermentation process, while also adding flavor and sweetness. Terebinth, a tree resin known now for having antioxidant properties, was also found within a yellowish flaky residue scraped from the jar, which was decorated with swirling red paint “tiger stripes.” ><
“While McGovern and his team aren’t yet certain what herbs were in the drink, since many plants share similar chemical components, they suspect mint, coriander, savory, senna and sage were likely candidates. The researchers are confident, however, that the second, more recent Egyptian wine contained pine resin and rosemary. A previous study determined that an early beer-like fermented emmer wheat barley beverage from Spain contained rosemary, along with mint and thyme. All of these ingredients and more were outlined in Egyptian medical papyri dating to 1850 B.C. ><
“McGovern said the resin and herbal ingredients probably served three primary functions. “They helped to preserve the wines, while also adding flavor and medical benefits,” he said, explaining that the last two frequently went together, since flavor was, and still is, often linked to health effects. “Bitter flavors in nature can signal danger, but they can also sometimes have powerful medicinal properties,” he added.
Ancient Nubian Antibiotic Beer
Ancient Nubians appear to have consumed a beer made from grains containing antibiotics. According to a study published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. large amounts of tetracycline was found embedded in the bones of ancient Nubian mummies, who lived along the Nile in present-day Sudan,and their most likely source is the beer they drank consistently throughout their lifetimes, beginning early in childhood. “Given the amount of tetracycline there, they had to know what they were doing,” lead author of the study George Armelagos, a biological anthropologist at Emory University in Atlanta, said. “They may not have known what tetracycline was, but they certainly knew something was making them feel better.” [Source: Emily Sohn, abc.net.au, discovery news, September 2010 )=(]
Emily Sohn wrote: “Armelagos was part of a group of anthropologists that excavated the mummies in 1963. His original goal was to study osteoporosis in the Nubians, who lived between about 350 and 550 A.D. But while looking through a microscope at samples of the ancient bone under ultraviolet light, he saw what looked like tetracycline — an antibiotic that was not officially patented in modern times until 1950. At first, he assumed that some kind of contamination had occurred. “Imagine if you’re unwrapping a mummy, and all of a sudden, you see a pair of sunglasses on it,” says Armelagos. “Initially, we thought it was a product of modern technology.” )=(
“His team’s first report about the finding, bolstered by even more evidence and published in Science in 1980, was met with lots of scepticism. For the new study, he got help dissolving bone samples and extracting tetracycline from them, clearly showing that the antibiotic was deposited into and embedded within the bone, not a result of contamination from the environment. They were also able to trace the antibiotic to its source: grain that was contaminated with a type of mold-like bacteria called Streptomyces. Common in soil, Strep bacteria produce tetracycline antibiotics to kill off other, competing bacteria. )=(
“Grains that are stored underground can easily become moldy with Streptomyces contamination, though these bacteria would only produce small amounts of tetracycline on their own when left to sit or baked into bread. Only when people fermented the grain would tetracycline production explode. Nubians both ate the fermented grains as gruel and used it to make beer...It appears that doses were high that consumption was consistent, and that drinking started early. Analyses of the bones showed that babies got some tetracycline through their mother’s milk. Then, between ages two and six, there was a big spike in antibiotics deposited in the bone, Armelagos said, suggesting that fermented grains were used as a weaning food. )=(
“Today, most beer is pasteurised to kill Strep and other bacteria, so there should be no antibiotics in the ale you order at a bar, says Dennis Vangerven, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. But Armelagos has challenged his students to home-brew beer like the Nubians did, including the addition of Strep bacteria. The resulting brew contains tetracycline, tastes sour but drinkable, and gives off a greenish hue. )=(
“There’s still a possibility that ancient antibiotic use was an accident that the Nubians never knew about, though Armelagos has also found tetracycline in the bones of another population that lived in Jordan. And VanGerven has found the antibiotic in a group that lived further south in Egypt during the same period. Finding tetracycline in these mummies, says VanGerven, is “surprising and unexpected. And at the very least, it gives us a very different time frame in which to understand the dynamic interaction between the bacterial world and the world of antibiotics.”“ )=(
Dentists in Ancient Egypt
The first known dentist was Hesi-Re, a physician who lived around 3000 B.C. and was known as "Chief of the Toothers and Chief of Toothers and the Physicians" and described as "the greatest physicians who treat the teeth.”
There was a lot of wear on mummy’s teeth. Some scholars believed that sand was used to get a fine grind for wheat and that their sieves were unable to remove all the sand. Thus the bread was gritty and this may explain the wear on mummy’s teeth. Many ancient people believed that pain was caused by creatures called toothworms.
Examinations of mummies and mummy remains have indicated that even pharaohs lost all their teeth. The most common form of treatment seemed to have been tooth extraction. Drilling through the jawbone may have been used to relieve abscessed teeth. Skulls from 2500 B.C. contained weak teeth that had been anchored to other teeth with gold wire.
The ancient Egyptians are credited with toothpaste. Mark Millmore of discoveringegypt.com wrote: “At the 2003 dental conference in Vienna, dentists sampled a replication of ancient Egyptian toothpaste. Its ingredients included powdered of ox hooves, ashes, burnt eggshells and pumice. Another toothpaste recipe and a how-to-brush guide was written on a papyrus from the fourth century AD describes how to mix precise amounts of rock salt, mint, dried iris flower and grains of pepper, to form a “powder for white and perfect teeth.”“ [Source:Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com ^^^]
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018