Impact of Civilisation
The fertile banks of the River Nile would allow a remarkable civilisation to flourish. No longer would these people have to rely on hunting and gathering to provide enough food for them. The annual floods of the River Nile would not only allow a form of farming to develop but it would permit a particularly sophisticated and collaborative form of farming to be carried out. Farming allows people to end their nomadic lifestyles and allows them to produce surplus quantities of food. This food could then be sold at a possible profit. Soon, it becomes apparent that not everyone is a good farmer and some are more or less successful than others. Soon, a hierarchy occurs where the rich can buy the services of others. Some people have the luxury of having time on their hands. This time can be used to consider things such as writing, building, religion and many other aspects of what we would now recognise as being the hallmarks of civilisation.
Specialisation
Specialisms occur to provide services. Not everyone is a successful farmer but find that they do have other talents. Civilisation allows for new talents to be displayed and developed whether they be artists, masons or even allow for a full time priestly caste to be formed.

Some of the specialisms that developed would come to aid the development of a rudimentary understanding of medical knowledge. Craftsmen could design intricate medical tools. Herbalists could get access to many new plants and herbs through the newly forming trade patterns being opened up. Builders would design housing that would allow for basic hygiene standards to be utilised. There would even be the first class of what we might call doctors. Perhaps a term like 'Health Practitioner' would be more appropriate. They would attempt to provide comfort and treatment through a combination of semi-scientific and supernatural ideas. Although, thanks to specialisation, the patient may have even have preferred to have visited a dedicated health professional and then a dedicated priest. Prayers and charms would have gone hand-in-hand with balms, bandages and herbal remedies.

The Nile Theory
Ancient Egyptian medical knowledge did try to rationalise and understand the functionings of the human body. Given the importance of the River Nile to Egyptian Civilisation, it was perhaps inevitable that they would draw parallels with the flow of that mighty river and of how it was used to irrigate their fields. They assumed that the body had channels that flowed in a similar manner. These channels would carry blood, air and water to the extremeties. People would fall sick when there was a blockage of some kind. For example, they though that rotting food would produce gases that would block these channels. They therefore assumed that virtually all disease was due to food not being digested properly.
Mummification
It would seem that the Ancient Egyptian practice of Mummification would have given rise to a certain understanding of the anatomical workings of the body. After all, the mummifiers would go to extensive lengths to preserve the organs of the dead. However, this respect for the human body would actually hamper Ancient Egyptian understanding of how the body worked. It was assumed that the dead person would need their body again in the following world, the mummifiers would therefore go to tortuous lengths to preserve the body in as perfect a condition as they possibly could. Their religious beliefs would not allow them to cut open a dead body just to see 'how it worked'. As it was, mummification was carried out by a lowly respected, if highly skilled, caste of craftsmen. Few people thought it worth asking these mummifiers for their views on how the body actually worked.
Imphotep
One of the earliest known physicians, Imphotep (2600s BC), was an extremely powerful figure in ancient Egypt. He was an advisor to kings and was the architect of some of the earliest and most famous of the pyramids. Later, around 500 BC, Imhotep was worshiped as the god of medicine in both Egypt and Greece.
The Smith and Ebers Papyrus's
Several Egyptian papyrus scrolls, dating from approximately 1600 BC, are among the oldest of the world's writings about medicine and cures. These scrolls are known by the names of the archaeologists and scholars who first studied them in the late 1800s. The "George Ebers" papyrus describes over 700 recipes for medicines and cures. The "Edwin Smith" papyrus is a guide to ancient surgical procedures and is believed to be a copy of a much earlier text from as early as 3000 BC. These sources shed a remarkable light on how Ancient Egypt attempted to treat its sick.
Imphotep
Doctor to King Zozer, Imphotep would later become the God of Healing
Powerpoints Available
Ancient Egyptian Medicine
Videos

Learning Tasks
Cloze Exercise
Timeline
c5000 BC Farming starts in Nile region
c3200 BC First Hieroglyphics used
c3100 BC Upper and Lower Kingdoms United
c2650 BC Pyramids start to be built
c2600 BC Imhotep is healer to King Zozer
c1600 BC Smith Papyrus written (Although thought to be a copy of a much older text)
671 BC Egyptians defeated by Assyrians
c450 BC Herodotus visits Egypt
Online Resources
Pre-History and Ancient Disease
This BBC site explores some of the factors involved.
Egyptian Herbal Medicine
This site gives a good overview to Ancient Egyptian herbal treatments
Smith and Ebers Papyrus
This site explains the full significance of the famous papyrus lists
eMuseum
This page discusses early Egyptian medicine and provides examples of Egyptian herbal remedies
Medicine in Old Egypt
This is a good, succinct overview of Ancient Egyptian medicine
Ancient Times: Kemet
This is really an elaborate bulletin board. You have to register if you want to fully participate in this interesting forum.
Ancient Egyptian Medicine
A site designed for GCSE students with plenty of exercises and descriptions
Reference Books
Cyril, B.
The Papyrus Ebers
Jamieson, B.
Imhotep: The Egyptian God of Medicine
Nunn, J.
Ancient Egyptian Medicine
Reeves, Carole
Ancient Egyptian Medicine
Whitney, J.
Healing and Resonance in Ancient Egypt
CD-ROMs Available
History of Medicine
Plenty of pictures, videos and text help explain the development of Medicine through the ages.
Videos Available
The Mummy
Although slightly fanciful, the baddy in this film is the Egyptian God of Healing; Imphotep
DVDs Available
The Mummy
Although slightly fanciful, the baddy in this film is the Egyptian God of Healing; Imphotep
Email Discussion Groups
Human Nature Information
This group can answer general questions dealing with the History of Medicine


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by Stephen Luscombe