(Picture taken by Sofia Aziz of the disputed surgical relief at the temple of Kom Ombo)
Article by : Sofia Aziz see below for more information
Evidence suggests that the swnw (doctors) only carried out minor surgical procedures. The swnw cauterized or lanced boils and abscesses. They may also have circumscribed swellings such as wens and lipomas. There are several examples of anatomical protuberances on wall reliefs. It has been suggested that these indicate the presence of inguinal and abdominal hernia but the reliefs themselves are insufficient evidence of this. The Ebers papyrus suggests that the swnw could demonstrate inguinal hernias by having the patient cough and reduce them via manual pressure.
We don’t have much evidence of possible tools used by surgeons. The disputed surgical instrument relief on the wall of Kom Ombo displays several objects which can be interpreted as knife blades, spatulas, small bags for drugs etc. This relief is from the Greek/Roman period.
One surgical procedure that was routinely carried out in ancient Egypt was circumcision. It was a ritual performed by the priests on groups of adolescent men and not infants. The world’s oldest portrayal of circumcision was carved on the wall of the Dynasty VI tomb of Ankhmahor, Vizier to King Teti.
The Edwin Smith Papyrus is the earliest document of major medical significance and contains the first evidence of surgical procedures and scientific reasoning. The cases are described by the anatomical site of the injury, working down from the top of the skull to the facial and temporal regions, the neck, collar bones, upper arms, chest and ribs, shoulders, and then to the upper spinal column. The papyrus describes 27 cases of head trauma. Of these 4 are deep scalp wounds whereby the skull is exposed and 11 are skull fractures. Great detail is given of the symptoms and signs of head injury.
The treatment suggested in the Edwin Smith Papyrus ranges from letting nature take its course, to cauterisation applied with a fire-drill to a suppurating or large tumour of the breast; splints made of wood and linen rolls to immobilize fractured limbs; manipulative reductions of fractures and dislocations and the use of medicine.
The swnw knew that the complete elimination of pus from wounds was an essential precondition to their successful closing and healing. Fresh meat was also applied to wounds to promote blood clotting.
Although the Edwin Smith papyrus shows a logical format to the management of trauma, other papyri give scant evidence of surgery outside the field of trauma.