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Books, Journals, New Media
August 13, 2003

Ancient Egyptian Medicine

Author Affiliations

Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; David H. Morse, MS, University of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, Journal Review Editor.

JAMA. 2003;290(6):826-827. doi:10.1001/jama.290.6.826-a

John F. Nunn is not only a distinguished physician, being the former Head of the Division on Anaesthesia of the Clinical Research Centre, British Medical Research Council, but is also an Egyptologist with a facility in the ancient language—fortuitous qualifications for the advancement of research into ancient Egyptian medicine.

This text is a comprehensive compilation of the many fragmentary papyri on the subject and is interpreted from a modern medical perspective. Because translations of the many seminal documents exist only in German, Ancient Egyptian Medicine provides tantalizing insights for the English-speaking laity. Nunn admits that the fragmentary evidence permits only a disjointed understanding of anatomy and medical treatment, but what is known points to a relatively sophisticated knowledge in some areas of treatment. For example, the Edwin Smith Papyrus deals with the diagnosis and treatment of trauma injuries and compares favorably to modern first aid practices. "Remedies" for a host of ills that include ingredients with known pharmacologic effect are presented, as are others that incorporate magical spells and the placebo effect of sacred amulets to effect healing.