This is a brief and incomplete overview of some of the valuable contributions Kemet made to medicine. I'm still working on it but I wanted to share.

Kemetian Contributions to Western Medicine
By Fenix

Introduction

If you needed medical treatment in the ancient world, Kemet (Gr. Egypt) was the place to look. The practice of medicine in Kemet was comprised of a fantastic mix of practical techniques, magic and a key philosophical concept, continuity. Roughly 14 medical papyri ranging in date form around 1900 BC (Kahun Papyrus) to the second century AD (Crocodilopolis Medical Book) have survived mostly in tact. From these extant papyri give amazing insight into the advanced medicine practiced in Kemet.

Extraordinarily, there is little change in medical practice from the Old Kingdom to the 26th Dynasty. For example, the Ebers Papyrus (dated at around 1534 BC) and the Berlin Medical Papyrus (19th Dynasty ~1000 BC) both contain a “Book for Driving out Corruption from All the Limbs of a Man”. There has been plenty speculation on the reason for this unique continuity. Many have pointed to the kingdom’s relative geographic isolation. I shy away from this explanation because imported materials, the transfer of ideas, and appearances of Kemetian archaeological elements in other ancient civilizations provide evidence to the contrary. Kemet lay in a unique geographic position, at the junction of three continents: its northern border faced Europe just across the Mediterranean, it shared southern and western borders with other African civilizations, and its eastern border was separated from Asia only by the Red Sea and the Sinai Peninsula. Though these barriers were difficult to cross, they would not have proven impossible to penetrate. In fact, accounts of foreigners prove that none of the previously mentioned barriers were impassable. Instead, I think this continuity can be accounted for by a combination of Kemet’s relative freedom from foreign domination and what has been described as an “innate conservatism”. This innate conservatism is better described as “preservative of tradition”. This concept is backed by the African view that the present and future ages are regressions from a Golden or Idyllic Age when man more closely interacted with divinity. This does not support the idea that Kemetians found progress undesirable. Instead, the idea is that progress was unnecessary because what was handed down from the gods was perfect and needed no innovation. This preference for traditional sources of wisdom is demonstrative of the unique faith expressed by the people of Kemet, a reluctance to discard the older, more valued knowledge and traditions.

Innovative Methods of Treatment

Kemetian physicians developed diverse and detailed methods for treating medical ailments ranging from use of medicinal herbs to surgical procedures. Plant use was extensive; evidence from extant papyri suggests that there were over 160 distinctive plant materials in use. Wall carvings from the Temple of Sobek and Haroeris at Kom Ombo show examples of the first scalpels, dissectors, probes and sponges. These instruments still fare prominently in modern Western medicine. Opium was used for pain relief. And the use of prosthetics was developed.

Also popular was the use of splints and bandages to set fractured limbs. By 2000 BC, Kemetic medicine was so advanced that there were what we today would call medical specialists, doctors for the eyes, teeth, belly, and “hidden diseases”. The world’s first hospital system was found at Saqqara.

Knowledge

Extant papyri depict extensive knowledge of the circulatory system which physicians understood as a network of vessels centered on the heart and extending to all body parts. It was believed that this system moved blood, water, air and wekhedu (described as a corruptive type of “bodily waste”). Physicians tested the system by taking the pulse at various points on the body, a practice adopted by and erroneously attributed to Greeks, that survives in modern medicine, as described in “Knowing the Movements of the Heart” from the Ebers Papyrus.

Wekhedu survives as the first comprehensive, empirically based disease theory in history. The idea of a continuous buildup of wekhedu explained the onset of disease, aging, and death. This provided the rationale for diet (certain foods enabled a buildup of wekhedu), medicine (the removal and control of wekhedu) and mummification (wekhedu caused decay). Any excess of wekhedu caused illness and manifestations of wekhedu were proven by the existence of pus in wounds and blisters. In this way, the Kemetian physicians were indeed describing infection. And they treated infection in the same manner as it is treated today. The wound was cleaned and bandaged with antibacterial agents, usually honey or copper salts. To prevent wekhedu buildup which occurred naturally, physicians used purges and enemas. This concept of natural bodily corruption greatly influenced Greek medicine, especially the Cnidian School of medicine in Greece, and they adopted pulse taking and the use of enemas to monitor and prevent this buildup.

Greeks also adopted Kemetian medical terminology. One example is gs-tp “half head”, which the Greeks translated to hemikrania, which became the modern migraine.

Drug Therapy

Kemetian physicians used the symbol of the Eye of Horus both to administer medicine and as the symbol for prescription; this is believed to be the inspiration for the modern symbol for prescription, Rx (comparison on right).

Ingredients labeled as “Egyptian” figured prominently in the works of Hippocrates (the so-called father of Western medicine: doctors still take the “Hippocratic Oath”), Herophilus (had a school in Alexandria), Pliny, Galen, and Dioscurides. These ingredients included natron, aloe, alum, beans, castor oil, chicory, saffron, and pomegranate. Castor oil remains in use today, retaining its original function as a laxative. Greeks also adopted exotic animal substances from Kemet, such as Herophilus’s use of hyena bile and crocodile dung. A popular treatment for the common cold was the “milk of a woman who has borne a male child”. This treatment evoked the idea of the curative milk of Auset (Gr. Isis) after the birth and injury of Heru (Gr. Horus) and was adopted in the Hippocratic Corpus, Pliny, Coptic medicine and ultimately British medicine from the 12th to the 17th centuries.

See: Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern by Ivan Van Sertima