The New York Times reports on the Edwin Smith Papyrus, a subject we covered recently. This ancient surgical text recently made its way down Fifth Avenue from its regular home, past the Manhattan offices of Medgadget, to an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:
One expert, James H. Breasted, who translated the papyrus in the 1920’s, called it “the oldest nucleus of really scientific knowledge in the world.” Yet relatively few people know of it, and fewer have seen it.
It is about to become much better known. After a short trip down Fifth (insert down-the-Nile metaphor here) to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the papyrus will go on public display, probably for the first time, on Tuesday, as part of the Met’s exhibition “The Art of Medicine in Ancient Egypt.” The show will also include items like a CAT scan of a mummy, surgical needles and other medical artifacts…
The Met’s take on the Edwin Smith papyrus:
The papyrus shows that ancient medics had a pretty good idea that blood, pumped by the heart, flows around the body – a notion that was not firmly established until the 17th century – and knew how to stitch cuts closed. It includes the oldest known descriptions of the effects of brain injuries, and the meninges, the membrane that covers the brain.
It also advises using honey – a natural bacteria killer – on open wounds, and giving patients a concoction of willow bark, which contains a natural painkiller that is chemically similar to aspirin. Mr. Allen said another ancient Egyptian text recommends putting moldy bread on wounds, suggesting that doctors had stumbled onto the principle behind penicillin. “They didn’t know what bacteria was, but they were already fighting infections,” Mr. Allen said. Though Egypt had metal tools, its doctors used stone knives, because “They could make flint knives much sharper, and a freshly sharpened flint knife is sterile.”
The Art of Medicine in Ancient Egpyt begins today at the Met.
More from the Metropolitan Museum of Art…