Oldest gynecological treatment found on Egyptian mummy

Scientists have discovered the oldest physical evidence of a gynecological treatment in an Egyptian mummy from the Middle Kingdom. A team of researchers from the University of Grenada in Spain and the University of Jaén in Aswan studied the mummy of an adult woman found in a shaft and chamber tomb at Qubbet el-Hawa on the west bank of the Nile opposite Aswan in 2017.

Radiocarbon dating found the woman died between 1878 and 1797 B.C., the late 12 Dynasty. While people buried there where from the upper echelons of society, mummification of this period at Qubbet el-Hawa tends not to preserve a great deal of soft tissue. The remains of the woman wrapped in layers of linen bandages were skeletonized. The outer coffin has suffered extensive termite damage, but enough survived to identify her by name as Sattjeni A. Archaeologists believe the initial was added because Sattjeni was a popular name among upper-class women of her time, so the A was necessary to distinguish her from all the other Sattjenis.

Osteological examination of her remains discovered a fracture in her pelvis, perhaps the result of the fall, severe enough to have caused her a great deal of pain and sterility. Medical texts dating to this period prescribed fumigations to heal gynecological injury. A hemispherical drinking cup placed between her bandaged legs was found to contain the burned remains of organic material consistent with the fumigation treatment described in 12th Dynasty papyri.

“The most interesting feature of the discovery made by the researchers from the University of Jaén is not only the documentation of a palliative gynaecological treatment, something that is quite unique in Egyptian archaeology, but also the fact that this type of treatment by fumigation was described in contemporary medical papyri. But, until now, there had been no evidence found to prove that such treatment was actually carried out,” explains the UJA’s Dr. Alejandro Jimenez, an expert in Egyptology and director of the Qubbet el-Hawa Project. This work has now been published by one of the most prestigious academic journals in Egyptology, Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Spracheund Altertumskunde.

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Comment by Ruth
2020-12-16 13:48:32

Hmmm, okay, not a doctor or archaeologist here but I am female. I’ve also broken my pelvis in a fall. Yes, it is painful, no, it doesn’t necessarily cause sterility. The pain only lasted about a month or so and aside from occasional twinges (and two more falls on the same side, I’m a klutz) it isn’t a problem. I’ve also had four kids so no, definitely doesn’t affect sterility! To be honest, to me that break in front looks like what you would see after giving birth. The pelvis front stretches to allow delivery because of connective tissue, which of course dissolves after death. Can’t speak to other gynecological problems that might have required a “fumigation”?

 
Comment by Tristram
2020-12-16 14:57:48

Ruth, like you, I am confused. “Sterility” is not even mentioned in the linked article. It would take some very specific evidence to conclude the woman was sterile.

 
Comment by Al Bell
2020-12-16 16:01:31

The summary in ‘Zeitschrift für Ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde’ (what in English would be something like: ‘Journal for Egyptian Language and Ancient Studies’), in the link from de Gruyter, mentions that the woman “suffered a traumatic injury in her pelvis, which provoked her pain, sterility and iatrogenic pain”.

I am unsure, though, how sterility and pain that a supposed medical treatment would have been induced 4000 years ago was measured here, but maybe this is explained in the journal article itself.

Particularly mind-boggling: The referred to ‘hemispherical fumigation cup’ in the first picture looks almost like a felt pen marker.

Maybe a donkey was involved here, but at the end of the day, the forensic evidence recovery might be a bit thin (OK, maybe it is not, but I did not read the full article).

If –at least in special cases– pelvises potentially break in delivery rooms, I am unable to tell. The pelvis, however, is a rather complex bone construction, and therefore there are very different fracture types:

Some are rather complicated and others you hardly notice at all. While bike riding this spring, my own front wheel with to much speed lost contact in a close turn, which caused my pelvis to get in touch with the ground.

 
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