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History

Egyptian knowledge about the body and disease

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Source analysis and question

There are vessels from the heart to every limb. When any physician, priest of Sekhmet or exorcist puts his hands or his fingers to the head, hands, stomach, arms or feet, then he examines the heart, because all the limbs possess its vessels; the heart speaks out of the vessels of every limb.

There are four vessels in his nostrils, two give mucus and two give blood.

There are four vessels in the forehead which then give blood to the eyes; all diseases of the eyes arise through them.

There are four vessels to the head which produce a bald spot and loss of hair.

The breath which enters into the nose enters into the heart and the lung; these join to the whole belly.

There are four vessels to his two ears... The breath of life enters into the right ear, and the breath of death enters into the left ear.

There are six vessels that lead to the arms; they lead to his fingers.

There are six vessels that lead to the feet, until they reach the sole of the foot.

There are two vessels to his testicles; it is they which give semen.

There are two vessels to the buttocks.

There are four vessels to the liver; it is they which give to it liquid and air, which afterwards cause all diseases to arise in it by overfilling with blood.

There are four vessels to the lung and to the spleen; it is they which give liquid and air to it likewise.

There are two vessels to the bladder; it is they which give urine.

There are four vessels that open to the anus; it is they which cause liquid and air to be produced for it. Now the anus opens to every vessel to the right side and the left side in arms and legs, when it is overfilled with excrements.

Ebers Papyrus 1570 BC

Question

Question

Once you have read the 'Ebers Papyrus' - a famous source in Egyptian anatomy and physiology - look for evidence that the Egyptians:

  1. believed in the Channel Theory
  2. had developed a proper medical profession
  3. knew about the pulse
  4. knew about the different organs of the body
  5. had a basic knowledge of physiology
  6. still believed that life had a spiritual basis
  7. believed that diseases were caused by a blockage of the channels
  8. had only partial knowledge, and got things wrong
  9. did not realise that veins were different from lungs and intestines
  10. wrote down what they knew, so that knowledge could be passed on

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Answer

Evidence from the 'Ebers Papyrus' that shows Egyptians:

  1. believed in the Channel Theory
    • 'There are vessels from the heart to every limb.'
  2. had developed a proper medical profession
    • 'When any physician, priest of Sekhmet or exorcist...'
  3. knew about the pulse
    • 'puts his hands or his fingers to the head, hands, stomach, arms or feet, then he examines the heart... the heart speaks out of the vessels of every limb.'
  4. knew about the different organs of the body
    • 'testicles... liver, the lung and the spleen bladder...'
  5. had a basic knowledge of physiology
    • 'There are two channels to his testicles; it is they which give semen.'
    • 'There are two channels to the bladder; it is they which give urine.'
  6. still believed that life had a spiritual basis
    • 'The breath of life enters into the right ear, and the breath of death enters into the left ear...'
  7. believed that diseases were caused by a blockage of the channels
    • 'which afterwards cause all diseases to arise in it by overfilling with blood.'
  8. had only partial knowledge, and got things wrong
    • 'Now the anus opens to every channel to the right side and to the left side in arms and legs when it is overfilled with excrements.'
    • 'There are 4 vessels to the head which produce a bald spot and loss of hair.'
  9. did not realise that veins were different from lungs and intestines
    • 'The breath which enters into the nose enters into the heart and the lung; these join to the whole belly.'
  10. wrote down what they knew, so that knowledge could be passed on
    • Ebers Papyrus, c.1500BC

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