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  • The ancient Egyptians were one of the first great

  • civilizations on the planet.

  • They built the pyramids at Giza, the Great Sphinx,

  • and the Library of Alexandria.

  • As a foundationally well-structured society,

  • the Egyptians had a sophisticated agricultural

  • economy, a highly organized government,

  • and proper law enforcement.

  • These social institutions created a sense

  • of stability in their everyday lives

  • that nurtured research and documentation.

  • Through trial and error, the ancient Egyptians

  • were able to discover medical treatments that

  • were far ahead of their time, many of which

  • are still employed today.

  • So today we're going to take a look at what surgery

  • was like in ancient Egypt.

  • But before we get started, be sure to subscribe to the Weird

  • History channel and let us know in the comments below what

  • other Egyptian history you would like to hear about.

  • Open up and say "ah."

  • Mm-hm.

  • Hmm.

  • Well, I'm afraid you're going to have to watch this video.

  • Ever the overachievers, the ancient Egyptians

  • have practiced medicine as far back as 3300 BCE.

  • Their knowledge was accumulated slowly

  • and was largely tested and verified

  • through the long, arduous process of trial and error.

  • They started fairly small, treating

  • battle wounds, snake bites, scorpion stings,

  • and other topical ailments.

  • But as this body of knowledge began to build up,

  • it eventually put them ahead of other civilizations

  • in the same era--

  • medically speaking, at least.

  • But despite all of the medical knowledge,

  • the average life expectancy at the time

  • was still just about 34 years in ancient Egypt.

  • That being said, it pretty much goes

  • without saying that you are much better off in a society that

  • was able to heal burns and set broken bones than ones where

  • such injuries were considered a death sentence.

  • For reasons that should be fairly obvious,

  • invasive surgery was something that was simply not

  • done in ancient Egypt.

  • The lack of anesthesia and antiseptic

  • made it essentially impossible, as it

  • would have resulted in excruciating pain and almost

  • certain death from infection.

  • However, the ancient Egyptians were quite adept

  • at topical remedies.

  • With the use of wooden splints and linens,

  • they had a functional knowledge of how to set broken bones

  • and correct dislocations.

  • They also knew to stitch wounds and make

  • effective herbal ointments to heal burns.

  • While this might sound more like low-level first aid

  • to modern folk, in the ancient world,

  • even these simple cures could mean the difference

  • between life and death.

  • The ancient Egyptian society was one

  • of considerable innovations.

  • And thanks to archaeologists, we know that those innovations

  • included some of the first truly effective surgical tools

  • that aided in medical treatment.

  • Primarily crafted from the newly discovered metal of copper,

  • the ancient Egyptians had versions of pincers, forceps,

  • spoons, saws, hooks, and knives, all of which

  • can be found in medical facilities today.

  • They also crafted excellent bandages

  • and had the foresight to infuse them with willow leaves

  • to treat inflammation, a practice that was incredibly

  • ahead of its time.

  • Among numerous other medical firsts,

  • it's very likely that the world's first ever prosthetics

  • were used in ancient Egypt.

  • How do we know?

  • Well, a female mummy who died somewhere between 950

  • and 710 BCE was discovered near Luxor, Egypt,

  • and she was found to have a prosthetic toe made

  • from wood and leather.

  • While the idea of a cosmetic replacement for a severed toe

  • is itself an impressive innovation,

  • researchers at the University of Manchester

  • suggest it may have actually been functional

  • and helped the woman to walk.

  • The prosthetic toe showed significant signs

  • of wear, which prompted university researchers

  • to conduct a study that tested the gait of its participants

  • with and without the aid of the replicated digit.

  • What was found was that walking in ancient Egyptian sandals,

  • which was the common footwear of the time,

  • would have been incredibly difficult without a big toe.

  • Prosthetics similar to the one found in the Luxor mummy

  • would have gone a long way to assisting the afflicted.

  • Just goes to prove the old saying about necessity

  • being the mother of invention.

  • While the jury is out on the definitive origins

  • of the practice, it has been speculated by some

  • that the ancient Egyptians may have invented

  • the act of male circumcision.

  • Some of you fellows may want to gird your loins

  • for this next section, because it's

  • important to note that anesthesia did not

  • exist at the time.

  • What we do know for sure is that, whether or not

  • they originated it, the Egyptians

  • certainly shared their knowledge of circumcision

  • with other cultures.

  • According to the Greek historian Herodotus,

  • who wrote in the mid-fifth century BCE,

  • the Egyptians are the only people in the world--

  • they, at least, and such as have learned

  • the practice from them-- who use circumcision.

  • They practice circumcision for the sake of cleanliness,

  • considering it better to be cleanly than comely.

  • The ancient Egyptians also appear

  • to have performed circumcision in the males'

  • preadolescence phase and not at infancy, as it is usually

  • practiced in other cultures.

  • This has led some to believe that it was a ritual

  • to commemorate the transition from boyhood to manhood.

  • Thanks, but I'll just get my driver's license.

  • The practice does not appear to have denoted social class

  • or status, however, as not all kings preserved

  • through mummification appear to be circumcised.

  • In 1849, a British woman named Elizabeth Blackwell

  • became the first woman to ever be granted an MD

  • degree in the United States.

  • It was a pretty impressive feat for the time,

  • but Elizabeth actually missed out

  • on being the first female doctor in history

  • by roughly 4,500 years, give or take a few years.

  • The ancient Egyptians weren't just ahead

  • of the curve in technology.

  • And being the first at so many milestones of medicine,

  • it should come as little surprise

  • that the earliest recorded instance of a female doctor

  • occurred in ancient Egypt.

  • The first known female doctor was named Merit-Ptah,

  • and according to archaeologists, she

  • lived somewhere in the neighborhood of 2700 BCE.

  • She likely held the title of chief physician,

  • meaning she had the authority to teach,

  • had supervision over other doctors,

  • and personally attended to the monarch of that time.

  • Though invasive surgery was an almost unheard

  • of practice in ancient Egypt, their doctors

  • still managed to accumulate a pretty solid knowledge

  • of the internal organs and how they functioned.

  • The Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest preserved documents

  • regarding medical practices, illustrates the thoughts

  • on the workings of vital organs at the time.

  • While some of the theories are slightly off,

  • there are some which are impressively spot on.

  • For starters, they knew a fair amount about the heart.

  • In the words of the Ebers Papyrus,

  • which we've slightly adapted into more modern terms,

  • from the heart there are vessels to all four limbs

  • to every part of the body.

  • Of the respiratory system, they knew

  • that when we breathe in through our noses,

  • the air enters our hearts and lungs and then

  • the entire belly.

  • Close enough.

  • They also had knowledge of the liver, which

  • they believed is supplied with liquid and air via four

  • vessels.

  • When they overfill the liver with blood,

  • they cause many diseases.

  • And of course, because it's pretty hard to miss,

  • they knew of the anus and had quite a few thoughts on it,

  • including that the liquid and air that comes out of the anus

  • comes from the vessels that exist in the arms and legs

  • when they are overflowing with waste.

  • OK, so it's not exactly what you'd

  • learn in a modern medical school,

  • but it's still pretty impressive when you consider all of this

  • was written down around 1550 BCE.

  • Almost nobody really loves going to the dentist,

  • but imagine having to go to the dentist in an era

  • when dental care didn't really work.

  • Well, that's exactly what the ancient Egyptians faced

  • when they had tooth problems.

  • For starters, the diet of the average ancient Egyptian

  • was not exactly conducive to a great set of teeth.

  • The tools used to grind food often

  • left behind traces of sand and stone,

  • which are naturally abrasive.

  • And this often meant tooth loss at an early age.

  • Now, the ancient Egyptians did have some remedies

  • for these kinds of dental ailments,

  • but they were fairly bizarre and typically painful.

  • For example, according to the Ebers Papyrus,

  • the treatment for a toothache was

  • rubbing a powdered mixture of onion, cumin, and incense

  • on a tooth.

  • Now, if you're wondering how that promoted healing,

  • it didn't.

  • There are cases where the ancient Egyptians

  • filled cavities with a mix of resin

  • and a greenish mineral that contained copper

  • and drilled into jawbones to drain abscesses of fluid.

  • But curiously, the process of tooth extraction,

  • which can be lifesaving in cases of infection,

  • was almost never used.

  • If the ancient Egyptians are known for anything,

  • it's the pyramids, the Sphinx, and their surprisingly

  • sophisticated process of mummification,

  • the latter of which has led to an understanding of how

  • they functioned as a society and how they viewed public health.

  • The mummification procedure was an incredibly invasive one

  • that involved thorough dissection to remove moisture

  • from the body.

  • The process included the removal of brain tissue

  • through the nostril via a gruesome hook implement.

  • And that being the case, the priests

  • who performed the sacred act got a fairly up-close and personal

  • look at the internal organs of the human beings

  • they prepped for the afterlife.

  • Curiously, the knowledge gleaned from mummification

  • was not employed for any medical use.

  • While nobody knows exactly why these areas were so discreet,

  • a strong possible explanation is that priests and doctors

  • of the time simply did not operate in the same circles.

  • So the communication just wasn't there.

  • It's been regarded as a strange oversight

  • for a civilization that practiced

  • such thorough documentation.

  • Though the ancient Egyptians used

  • many legitimate medical remedies,

  • the primary method of care still relied heavily on magic.

  • You see, they believed that all diseases

  • had supernatural causes.

  • That being said, they assumed that healing also logically

  • relied on the supernatural as well.

  • So medical treatment often came with a spell that

  • was believed to aid recovery.

  • One example of this would be a remedy for whooping cough.

  • The medical treatment would consist

  • of a grounded, roasted mouse mixed into milk,

  • followed by the magical aid of a lullaby that

  • drove off evil spirits.

  • Sounds like it would be a disaster.

  • But archaeologists have found evidence of the effectiveness

  • of such treatments.

  • So does this mean that magic works?

  • Well, we can't rule that out entirely-- actually, we

  • can-- but most modern scientists and doctors believe

  • the success rate was likely due to a powerful placebo effect.

  • So what do you think?

  • How is your health care compared to ancient Egyptians'?

  • Let us know in the comments below.

  • And while you're at it, check out some of these other videos

  • from our Weird History.

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