Blog Post 3 – Evolution of Ancient Egyptian Medicine

The most prolifically discussed sources for evidence of medical practices come in textual forms. Those of particular importance being the Kahun Gynecological Papyrus, the Edwin Smith Papyrus, and Ebers Papyrus. In all of these papyri, some better preserved and complete than others, one can find the accounts of medical practitioners as they discuss the methods for diagnosis and treatment of various illnesses and injuries. However, often neglected by the more historically based approaches of Egyptology, there is also abundant bioarchaeological and related archaeobotanical evidence for a multitude of medical interventions and prolonged care for the disabled. This research paper will aim to discuss and analyze this archaeobotanical and bioarchaeological evidence, with the historical support of the textual evidence mentioned previously, to gain a better understanding of how medical practices in ancient Egypt evolved over time, spanning from the Old Kingdom into the Late Period.

Medical treatments in ancient Egypt are multifaceted and diverse, covering everything from more external and holistic medical practices to much more invasive surgeries. Of note in the bioarchaeological record, the presence of dental caries and abrasion, often due to small amounts of sand that was not fully removed from the food through processing, became much more abundant beginning in the Old Kingdom regardless of social status. Like many of the treatments for a multitude of ailments, it is believed that most early dental treatments were based on ritualistic or herbal medicine in the Old Kingdom, which does not leave much of a presence bioarchaeologically. However, there is possible evidence for more invasive dental work such as forced dental extraction and possible fake tooth implementation in the more recent bioarchaeological record (Nunn). As exemplified by dental medicine, it is possible to see a movement towards and a rise in the amount of invasive medicinal interventions with the progression of time in the ancient Egyptian archaeological record.

Strong ideological influence over all domains of life throughout ancient Egyptian history is well-established, and this influence certainly holds in the realm of medicine as well. Through textual evidence in both papyri, hieroglyphs, and other visual representations it is known that many medical treatments were accompanied by some form of belief-influenced ritual, as briefly mentioned earlier. (Coppens 128) However, a focus on the simply ritualistic aspects of these practices ignores that the Egyptians seemed to have a keen understanding that injury and illness were also due to physical influences and contamination. Nonetheless, an understanding of them is important since much of the archaeobotanical evidence found is directly linked to these medicinal rituals. There is also evidence for some forms of herb-based pharmacology as methods of treatment.

Although some Egyptologists, archaeologists, and other researches of ancient Egypt believe that the study of medical evolution would be a fruitless effort due to the ideological conservatism of ancient Egyptians, there is much textual evidence to show that this conservatism did not prevent these medical practitioners from adopting and creating new techniques and course of treatment (Ritner 107-110). It is now crucial that this textual evidence be corroborated with the available archaeological evidence and the archaeological evidence be allowed to inform further discussions on Egyptian medicine. With this being the case, this paper will seek to aid the bridging of the gap between the oft discussed historical and textual evidence with the archaeological record.



Griffith, R. Drew. “Honeymoon Salad: Cambyses’ Uxoricide According to the Egyptians (Hdt. 3.32.3-4).” Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte, vol. 58, no. 2, 2009, pp. 131–140. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Nunn, J F. Ancient Egyptian Medicine. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996. Print.

Ritner, Robert K. “Innovations and Adaptations in Ancient Egyptian Medicine.” Vol. 59, no. 2, 2000, pp. 107–117., Accessed 30 Oct. 2018.


Wilcox, Barbara. “Stanford Archaeologist Leads the First Detailed Study of Human Remains at the Ancient Egyptian Site of Deir El-Medina.” Stanford University, Stanford University, 17 Nov. 2014,

2 thoughts on “Blog Post 3 – Evolution of Ancient Egyptian Medicine

  1. The idea of doing a comprehensive study of medical practice in Ancient Egypt sounds like a fascinating topic for a research paper, and I was surprised to read that invasive surgeries were already being performed at this time. I also found it surprising to read that such sophisticated dental care was already routine at this time, even to the extent of dental surgeries. This is particularly interesting because these sorts of treatments are much more visible in skeletal remains than, say, holistic medical treatments might be, as you mentioned. It would be incredibly interesting to see how much bioarchaeological evidence can be found to corroborate the textual accounts of other forms of invasive surgeries, and to see estimates of how long individuals might have survived once these surgeries had been performed (in order to get an idea of the relative success rate of these surgeries). I’m also curious to learn more about how belief-influenced rituals that you mentioned are related to the medical treatments that were performed, and to see what sources of evidence align with this outside of textual evidence. This idea makes so much sense given, as you wrote, the “strong ideological influence over all domains of life” in Ancient Egypt, however, like holistic medicine, it can be more difficult to find evidence for this in human remains; this is precisely why I think it’s very smart that you are incorporating archaeobotanical evidence into your analysis as well as bioarchaeological evidence. There are a lot of different directions that you could take with this paper, and I’m curious to how it turns out.

  2. I plan to write about a topic that is quite similar to yours. I hope to discuss the different medical practices of Ancient and Egyptians and then maybe compare them to other cultures to show how advanced, or behind, Egyptians were in the medical field. If I struggle finding enough scholarly works to do this then I will just show how techniques and practices had evolved over time.

    I liked that you mentioned the medical papyri. I think it is amazing that a lot of what we know today about Ancient Egyptian medical practices is from those few texts. In my research so far I have focused on a lot of surgical procedures such as amputation. I had not found any information about dental practices (and honestly had not even thought about that) so I found it very interesting reading about your research on the topic. It is hard to imagine that so long ago, not only were surgeries being performed, but so were dental implantations and too extractions. Just amazing!

    It was also nice to read about how you plan to bring together different pieces of knowledge and information in order to explain the evolving medical practices. Archaeology has its own information and documentation. Historical texts and papyri have their own insights, and even art has its own story to tell about the medical practices of the Ancient Egyptians. The combination of all of these sources of information is what will provide the most accurate and thorough description of their medical practices.

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