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September 27, 2005

Edwin Smith Papyrus

While it never found a cure for the common cold, the "Edwin Smith Papyrus" revealed ancient Egyptain medicine used simple antibiotics, sterile surgical equipment. The papyrus, housed in the archive of the New York Academy of Medicine, is on public display for the first time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ever since an American, Edwin Smith, bought and translated the papyrus in the 19th century, it has struck readers as surprisingly modern. It includes magical incantations, but most of the text takes a methodical, empirical approach to diagnosis and treatment. Perhaps most striking is its restraint - the author's approach is cautious, and in some cases, the text counsels doing nothing but waiting to see if the body will heal itself.

"When you think about some of the aggressive treatments recommended by later authorities, the things done in the Middle Ages that would make your skin crawl and were sometimes harmful, the papyrus is often much more in line with our current thinking," said Miriam Mandelbaum, curator of rare books and manuscripts at the academy of medicine.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at September 27, 2005 08:34 AM

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