Chemistry Chemistry in ancient Egypt – science is extremely applied


Chemistry in ancient Egypt – science is extremely applied, and it was partly sacred. The main area of ??application of chemical knowledge is the embalming of the dead in the framework of the cult of the dead. The necessity of keeping the body in order during the eternal afterlife required the creation of reliable embalming compounds that prevented rotting and decomposition of tissues.

The chemistry of the ancient Egyptian embalmers is all sorts of pitches and salt solutions, in which the body was first soaked, and then soaked through them. The saturation of the mummies with balsams was sometimes so high that the tissues were charred over the course of centuries. So, in particular, happened with the mummy of Pharaoh Tutankhamun – fatty acid contained in aromatic oils and balms, caused a complete charring of tissues, so that the image of the pharaoh was preserved only by the famous coffin made of pure gold.

Another aspect of the application of chemical knowledge is glass making. Earthenware, beads from colored glass – the most important branch of jewelry art of the ancient Egyptians. A rich color range of jewelry, which fell into the hands of archaeologists, convincingly demonstrates the ability of Egyptian glassmakers to use a variety of mineral and organic additives for coloring raw materials.

The same can be said about tanning, and about weaving. The Egyptians learned to beat the skin in the deepest antiquity and used for this purpose natural tannin, which is rich in seeds of acacia, which grows in Egypt. A variety of natural dyes were used in the manufacture of fabrics – linen and wool. The main colors are blue, which was obtained with indigo paint, and yellow. The Egyptian painters enjoyed the richest color palette: the murals of the times of the Ancient, Middle and New Kingdoms, preserved until your time in the dry air of the funerary chambers. They did not lose their multicolored color, which characterizes the quality of the dyes used by the Egyptians.


The Egyptians received extensive medical knowledge from the practice of embalming corpses, which led to an acquaintance with the internal structure of the human body. In the era of the Old Kingdom, individual medical observations, obtained empirically, were subjected to selection and classification, on the basis of which the first medical treatises appeared. Ten major medical papyri have come down to us, named after either the first owners, or by the names of the cities where they are stored. Of these, the most valuable are two – the great medical papyrus Ebers and surgical papyrus Edwin Smith.

Ebers’ papyrus was discovered in one of the Theban tombs in 1872 g. and dates from the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep I (16th century BC). This papyrus contains more than forty texts on medicine. It contains many recipes and prescriptions for the treatment of various diseases, gives advice on how to escape the bites of insects and animals; the cosmetics section contains instructions on how to get rid of wrinkles, remove moles, enhance hair growth, etc. All without exception medical prescriptions are accompanied by appropriate magical spells and conspiracies for each specific case. Various medicinal plants (onions, garlic, lotus, flax, poppy, dates, grapes), minerals (antimony, soda, sulfur, clay, lead, saltpetre), substances of organic origin (processed organs of animals, blood, milk ). Medicines were usually prepared as infusions on milk,

Egyptian doctors treated various fevers, dysentery, dropsy, rheumatism, heart disease, liver, respiratory tract, diabetes, most gastric diseases, ulcers, etc.

In the papyrus Edwin Smith lists various injuries: the head, throat, collarbone, thorax, spine. Egyptian surgeons dared rather complicated operations. As evidenced by the finds in the tombs, they used surgical instruments made of bronze. In the whole ancient world, the best doctors, and in particular surgeons, were rightly considered the Egyptians. They knew the herbs and their medicinal properties, they were able in many cases to make an accurate diagnosis, to apply morphine, to use proven methods of treatment. Lack of knowledge filled with magic and witchcraft, which also often proved useful (at least psychologically). Some remedies and methods of treatment, applied by ancient Egyptian doctors, are used in modern medicine.

The Egyptian doctors were taught, first of all, to determine the symptoms of the disease, and then to make examinations and analyzes. They were instructed to write down in detail the data of their observations and surveys. There is evidence that Egyptian doctors were supposed to say after the examination whether they can cure the patient or not. Sometimes they did surgery. Surgeons calcined their instruments on fire before the operation and tried to observe in the highest possible purity of the patient and everything that surrounds him.

Ancient Egyptian doctors enjoyed such high authority in the Middle East that sometimes they were sent to neighboring countries at the invitation of their lords. One of the wall paintings in the tomb of the era of the New Kingdom shows a foreign prince who came to Egypt with his entire family to consult with an Egyptian doctor. Doctors were trained by their senior and experienced colleagues, living for a time in their families. Apparently, in Egypt there were medical schools. So, there is evidence of the existence of a special school for midwives. The best doctors became court physicians of Pharaoh and his family.

Ancient Egyptian doctors were well versed in how the human body is arranged. They had information about the nervous system and the consequences of brain injuries. They knew, for example, that trauma to the right side of the skull caused paralysis of the left side of the body, and vice versa. Although they did not fully understand the circulatory system. They only knew that the heart provides blood circulation in the body. Pulse they called “transmitting messages of the heart.”

The Egyptian who was afflicted had no reason to know what exactly he was sick with. He was much more interested in whether the doctor could heal him. This approach to the doctor’s case was reflected in the recommendations: “Tell him (ie, the patient) only:” I can cope with this disease, “or” I can manage this disease, “or” I can not cope with this disease “, but tell him this at once.