discover the first gynecological treatment in history


Updated:11/19/2020 10: 37h


It was called Sattjeni, was thirty years old and was buried in the necropolis of Qubbet el-Hawa, in southern Egypt, about four thousand years ago. His grave, made of cedar wood imported from Lebanon, remained intact until 2017, when a group of researchers from the University of Jaén (UJA) exhumed it along with nine other corpses. All belonged to the upper class of the ancient city of Elephantine and were unmumified, but hers was special. Between her legs, where you could still see the remains of the bandages with which she was covered, there was a burnt ceramic bowl. Experts had never seen anything like it. Now, at last, the conclusions of his study have been made public, which has been published in one of the most prestigious journals in Egyptology, “Zeitschrift für ägyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde.”

“It caught our attention because it was the first case we saw. And we had been digging there for a decade … We imagine it was the result of some ritual to which we weren’t sure what it might correspond to, “he tells ABC Alejandro Jimenez, project manager. After the surprising discovery, physical anthropologists analyzed the remains of the deceased, and discovered that she had suffered a fracture in the pelvis as a result of a fall, an injury that was not fatal, but that did have to cause intense pain.

Image of the skeletal remains and the bowl of Sattjeni
Image of the skeletal remains and the bowl of Sattjeni – Patricia Mora

At that moment, they began to suspect that this container had more to do with medicine (which at that time was quite similar to magic) than with some religious offering. They believed it was related to some kind of palliative treatment performed by fumigation. That is, it was used to burn different substances in order for the smoke to alleviate the evil of Sattjeni. That was what they looked for in written sources. And what they got.

“Several papyri that were written at the time this woman died describe palliative treatments in which fumigations were used for different gynecological problems,” explains Jiménez, who is a doctor in Egyptology at the UJA. Unfortunately, they did not come up with a specific “prescription” for treatment for pain caused by an injury. fracture, but there are others for problems related to fertility or menstruation. «This confirmed to us that we were facing a type of treatment that was used for gynecological problems. It is very important, because archeology had not been able to confirm until now that these types of procedures were carried out, ”he adds.

An exclusive treatment?

We do not know if this was an exclusive practice of the elites or if it also became popular among the lower classes, although everything seems to indicate the former. Without a doubt, this one had a quite affluent existence. They found her covered with cardboard, with a plaster shroud in which her ideal features were represented. Furthermore, he had a cornelian necklace around his neck. “Everything tells us that he enjoyed quite relaxed living conditions at a time when the ruling class was made up of very few people,” says Jiménez.

“We can be almost certain that this type of treatment was received by the upper class. Although of course, the same tomorrow we discovered another more popular class burial and … It is difficult to confirm whether this type of treatment, which is not expensive, or at least does not include very rare substances, were accessible to the rest of the population . What we know is that knowledge of the treatments was in the hands of what we could call doctors. And this certainly did not work with the lower classes, “he concludes.

Be that as it may, the Sattjeni bowl not only reveals a technique of Egyptian medicine, but also offers us a devastating certainty: the people who buried her believed that pain did not end with death. That is why they treated her before saying goodbye forever.

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