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The Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus: ancient Egyptian medicine
  1. Lesley Smith
  1. Tutbury Castle, Tutbury, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ms Lesley Smith, Tutbury Castle, Tutbury, Staffordshire DE13 9JF, UK; info{at}

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In around 1825 BC, the 29th year of the reign of Amenemhat, someone (probably a physician) recorded that date on the back of a papyrus, which formed part of a group of medical texts originating from the land of the Pharaohs. Those papyri would be brought into the modern world in April and November 1889 by Flinders Petrie. They were found on a site near the modern day Egyptian town of Lehun. The so-called Kahun Gynaecological Papyrus is one of the largest manuscripts dating from the late Middle Kingdom (1850–1700 BC). ‘Kahun’ is the name Petrie gave to the Lehun town site, which in 1825 BC had been a thriving, prosperous town. The papyrus had been so heavily used that its ancient owner had to repair it, with a patch bearing an administrative fragment visible at one point on the back.

In the late Victorian period and into the early 20th century there was a worldwide fascination for all things Egyptian. Egypt had sparked the romantic imagination and there was great demand to find yet more artefacts among the tombs. As man wondered at the sight of the lapis lazuli and golden jewellery, there were also the fascinating Kahun medical papyri. These were no ordinary ancient papyri, but the earliest medical texts known, relating to gynaecological medicine almost …

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.