Egyptian papyrus shows rare details of ancient medical practice

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Ancient manuscripts that were not previously translated showed a rare and fascinating glimpse of scientific and medical practice in Egypt thousands of years ago.

Experts working with texts recently found that the papyrus rolls included the oldest known medical discussion of the kidneys, as well as notes on treatment for eye diseases and a pregnancy test, a science news site reported by ScienceNordic.

Manuscripts are part of the Papyrus Accumulation of Carlsberg, housed at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, where an international team of researchers collaborates to interpret unpublished documents, according to the project website.

Along with medical information, the documents contain references to astronomy, botany and astrology, researchers said ScienceNordic.

The extensive collection of Carlsberg Papyrus includes approximately 1,400 manuscripts, most of which date from 2000 BC. BC 1000, the collection manager Kim Rihalt, a lecturer with the Department of Intercultural and Regional Studies at Copenhagen University, wrote on the website of the Carlsberg Foundation. Much of this ancient Egyptian scientific literature has remained untranslated since its donation to the university in 1939, according to the collection’s website.

One recently translated medical text outlined a pregnancy test that sent a pregnant woman to urinate in two bags – one containing wheat and one barley holding, told ScienceNordic. According to the papyrus, the sex of the child would have been determined, with which the grain had grown at first – and if none grew, the test was negative.

While this pregnancy test may seem unusual by modern standards, a similar test has been referred to in the medieval German text since 1699, said project researcher Sophie Shiydt, a doctoral student at the Department of Intercultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen, ScienceNordic.

“Many ideas in medical texts from ancient Egypt appear again in later Greek and Roman texts,” Shiydt said. “From here, they extend further to medieval medical texts in the Middle East, and you can find traces all the way to pre-modern medicine.”

Scientific papyri from ancient Egypt is not enough, and translating these texts will provide valuable insight into the funds of science and medicine in the ancient world, researchers said ScienceNordic.