Traumatic Brain Injuries in the Ancient Egypt: Insights From the Edwin Smith Papyrus

J Neurol Surg A Cent Eur Neurosurg. 2012 Aug;73(4):230-7. doi: 10.1055/s-0032-1313635. Epub 2012 May 3.


Background: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is probably as old as human beings. The Edwin Smith Papyrus is the first treatise describing the treatment of patients with TBI and allows insights into the medical examination and treatment of head-injured patients in ancient Egypt.

Method: Clinical, diagnostic, and therapeutic principles in the treatment of TBI in ancient Egypt were analyzed.

Results: Methodically, cases and the presentation of each case are neatly classified within the papyrus. The papyrus contains the first description of the brain, pulsations, contusions as the result of TBI, the dura, and cerebrospinal fluid, revealing a more or less sophisticated knowledge of cerebral anatomy. Furthermore, ancient physicians examined wounds, fractures, signs of basal skull fractures, and associated neurological or infectious symptoms, and classified the injury pattern according to their prognosis. Therapeutic options at this time seemed to have been limited.

Conclusions: The Edwin Smith Papyrus reveals astonishing observation skill when considering the methods and limits of ancient times. These physicians were able to recognize many symptoms of TBI and assign them a prognostic value.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Injuries / diagnosis
  • Brain Injuries / history*
  • Brain Injuries / therapy
  • Egypt, Ancient
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Manuscripts, Medical as Topic
  • Neurologic Examination / history
  • Neurosurgery / history*