Egyptian knowledge about the body and disease
As the priests of ancient Egypt carried out their rituals of mummification, they learned a lot about the internal organs of the human body. They learned still more as they observed the natural world, and have left important writings that tell us some of what they knew.
Archaeologists have discovered papyri that show that the Egyptians had a good knowledge of bone structure, and had some understanding of breathing, the pulse, the brain and the liver.
The Egyptians developed a theory of physiology that saw the heart as the centre of a system of 46 tubes, or 'channels'. They failed, though, to realise that the different tubes (veins, intestines, lungs etc) had specific purposes. Their system is called the Channel Theory by historians.
The Egyptians believed that life was created and controlled by the gods. For example, they believed their god Thoth created human beings, and their god-demon Bes oversaw childbirth.
Having observed the damage done to farmers' fields when an irrigation channel became blocked, the Egyptians developed the idea that disease occurred when an evil spirit called the Wehedu blocked one of the body's 'channels'.
This was a crucial breakthrough in the history of medicine, because it led doctors to abandon purely spiritual cures for illness, and instead to try practical cures designed simply to unblock the channel.
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
Once you have read the 'Ebers Papyrus' - a famous source in Egyptian anatomy and physiology - look for evidence that the Egyptians:
Evidence from the 'Ebers Papyrus' that shows Egyptians: