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JAMA 100 Years Ago
April 8, 2009

PREHISTORIC PATHOLOGY

JAMA. 2009;301(14):1490. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.364

When we begin to contemplate Egyptian history our ideas as to what constitutes true antiquity receive a sudden shock, for ancient Rome is to predynastic Egypt as Chicago is to the Acropolis of Athens, and a perusal of the works and monuments of the physicians of early Egyptian and Assyrian times causes Hippocrates to seem like one of our most recent graduates. Indeed, so overwhelmed is our vanity at finding that at so early a period in history there existed some really accurate practical knowledge of pathology and therapeutics that we have been perhaps too willing to render homage to antiquity, and have credited the early Egyptians with even more skill than they actually possessed. For example, it is a current belief that the Egyptians were practiced in filling teeth with gold; yet Comrie,1 in an interesting lecture on “Medicine Among the Assyrians and Egyptians in 1500 B. C.,” states that he has been unable to obtain any confirmation of this belief in spite of considerable search and inquiry. Likewise, the idea that amputations were performed by Egyptian surgeons seems to be incorrect, and indeed the very idea of the mutilation of the body was so foreign to their religious belief that this practice would seem to have been impossible.

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