With scant and imprecise records, it remains somewhat of a mystery as to how developed in the science of medicine and health some of the advanced ancient civilizations were around the world. One such mystery lies in the elegant travel wonder, the Temple of Kom Ombo, built on a bend in the Nile just over two thousand years ago.

Most visitors to Egypt split their time between the seething pandemonium of Cairo with its world-famous Pyramids, Sphinx and museum and enjoying a few days cruising the snaking Nile between Luxor and Aswan (or vice versa). Between restful scenes of farm and rural life along the banks and the gentle flutter of white sails on the feluccas as they exploit the subtle breezes, the cruises stop off at various temples. These remarkable feats of engineering on an immense scale are richly inscribed and delicately decorated in hieroglyphics detailing the deep sense of the importance of religion and culture in Egyptian life at the time.

Strolling around the dual temple at Kom Ombo, unusually dedicated to both Sobek (the crocodile-headed god of creation and fertility) and Horus the Elder (the falcon-headed god of protection) there is a sense of familiarity with the towering symmetric columns of the hypostyle halls and the remains of the various rooms, halls, chambers and sanctuaries. The flecks of paint that have survived the test of time serve as a reminder of what an extraordinary sight these striking structures must have been in full vivid colour back in ancient times. A small crypt off to one side houses a handful of mummified crocodiles.

However, along the back wall in among the hieroglyphics is a surprise. The wall contains engravings of scalpels, forceps, small bottles, scissors, scales, hooks, probes, dilators and various other pieces of medical supplies – the first known depictions of surgical equipment and surely an indicator of advanced medical expertise. Despite the ancient Egyptian’s remarkable skills in dealing with mummies, is it feasible that such medical practices were available over two thousand years ago and numerous centuries before most of these procedures are generally accepted to have been performed?

Another wall shows what appears to be a stethoscope complete with its two cords for the ears and cup for placing against the patient’s chest. Yet, the invention for this instrument is credited to a Frenchman, René Laennec around twenty centuries later in 1816. While opinion among Egyptologists vary as to whether this is a stethoscope, it is difficult to come up with another sensible view on what we may be.

As the small boats paddle for home silhouetted by the reds and oranges of the setting sun painted on the Nile and the floodlights start to dominate the Ptolemaic temple, it is interesting to contemplate on whether Kom Ombo will ever yield its medical secrets to the modern world. Irrespective, it is interesting to hear the stories of the guides around the Egyptian travel wonders and to speculate on the skills of this extraordinary ancient civilisation.



9 Responses to Modern Medicine in Ancient Egypt? (Kom Ombo, Egypt)

  • Priyank says:

    Very nice, so much to learn from the ancient cultures, but most modern history, science or concepts of civilization are rooted in western definitions.

  • Mark H says:

    @priyank: Very true indeed

  • Heather Dugan ("Footsteps") says:

    So intriguing -because we’ll never truly know… It’s not a bad thing to have a few mysteries to make us wonder a little.

  • Martin in Bulgaria says:

    This does not surpris me as I studied Ancient Egypt at high school. More to this series of dynasties than meets the eye.

  • Mark H says:

    @heather: I guess mystery is good though my science gene always makes me want to know a little more.

    @martin: I wish I’d had a chance to learn more about Egypt. I think several of these advanced ancient cultures offered a fair bit more which is unliekly to ever be truly understood,

  • Erica Johansson says:

    I’ve been meaning to ask you: Are you a professional travel writer? You write very well.

  • Mark H says:

    @erica: What an extraordinarily flattering query. I am not a professional travel writer (actually IT is my profession, which doesn’t tend to attract good writers at all – simply an enthusiastic traveller.

  • Mark H says:

    @erica: What a misleading comment. “IT” means info technology in the previous comment and not “it”. Bad way to write it.

  • Erica says:

    No problem, Mark. I understood what you meant by IT.

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Welcome to Travel Wonders
My name is Mark and I’m a keen traveller. In fact, over the last 25 years, I’ve travelled to every continent and over 80 countries. This blog is about the most memorable destinations – the places I regard as the travel wonders of the world. I’m also a keen photographer, and have taken nearly all the photos you’ll see. During my travels, I’ve met some incredible people, seen inspiring places, viewed extraordinary wildlife and scenery and had some amazing experiences, and I’m writing these stories not only to entertain but primarily to inspire others to discover their own travel wonders.
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