Wednesday, April 19, 2017

P for Merit Ptah: Female Scientists Before Our Time

Going back in time to ancient Egypt (c. 2700 BC) we find Merit Ptah, the first woman mentioned by name in the history of medicine. Some believe she may have been the first female scientist mentioned in all of science. 

Pyramid of Djoser

Merit was the royal court’s “Chief Physician” (or “Boss Doctor”), a title inscribed on her tomb by her son, a high priest. Merit was buried in the necropolis near the famous step pyramid of Saqqara, the Pyramid of Djoser. Built during Pharaoh Djoser’s reign (c. 2630-2611 BC), the step pyramids are considered the first and earliest known Egyptian pyramids ever built.

As the court’s chief physician, Merit would have been the king’s personal physician, as well as a teacher and supervisor of medical staff below her. Her large medicine storehouse would have included some of the estimated 160 plants known to have curative properties, and likewise, dried animal feces and certain metals, as well as therapeutic remedies. She would have relied on religious beliefs in her treatments and used the magical realm of incantations as applicable.

 Ancient Egyptian amulets were popular and 
worn for good health and magical purposes.
Egyptians stressed the importance of cleanliness, more for religious reasons than for health, but on a practical level, cleanliness was a definite win-win for doctors treating infections in patients and preventing the spread of contagious disease. Ancient Egypt was a recognized source of medical knowledge and had the best physicians in the ancient world. Their practice of mummifying the dead had given them a unique advantage in understanding human anatomy, such as blood flow and the function of internal organs. 
 Ancient Egyptian 
medical tools.
A Tomb monument of an Egyptian couple with child






Research Note: I ran into problems researching Merit Ptah, and was warned early on not to confuse her . . . with Merit-Ptah, the wife of Ramose (Governor of Thebes and Vizier under Akhenaten). And then learned not to confuse her also with . . . Queen Merit-Amun (or Meritamen). I saw a beautiful bust of Queen Merit-Amun (really her image?) reference all three women, so be warned. Confusion all over the internet 😦


Source:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merit-Ptah; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Step_pyramid; http://www.ancient.eu/article/49/
http://ancientstandard.com/2011/03/16/the-female-physicians-of-ancient-egypt/; http://www.ancient-origins.net/merit-ptah; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Egyptian_medicine; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5215293/

22 comments:

  1. To be the first female scientist that is wonderful, when you think of all the others who have followed in her footsteps.

    Yvonne.

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    1. It was wonderful to learn about her. Ancient Egyptians left so much history for us to discover.

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  2. It says something about the position of women in ancient Egypt, doesn't I think?

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    1. It appears so. Merit Ptah was a capable woman with a leadership role.

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    1. It happens to me all the time....especially on my so-called smart phone!!

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  4. The Egyptians were clearly so advanced in many ways, to have a woman in such a high position. Excellent stuff!

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    1. Hi, Nick. Thanks. We are used to men leading in such fields. Women were the exception, which makes Merit Ptah pretty awesome.

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  5. Hi Sharon - thanks for the warnings ... Merit Ptah was obviously highly regarded and it's good her son recognised her with the inscription on her tomb ... These are fascinating to read - and get us to think about early Egypt ... cheers Hilary

    http://positiveletters.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/p-is-for-pigs.html

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    1. I wanted to find out about her son, but didn't see much. We have him to thank!

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  6. Love how you find all these wonderful ancient female scientists.

    Heidi (Her Grace) from Romance Spinners

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    1. Thanks! There are plenty more, but of course the a-z determined who to pick.

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  7. Wow, that was a few years ago! You have had to do a lot of research for your theme!

    http://sagecoveredhills.blogspot.com/2017/04/p-is-for-perseus.html

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    1. No kidding. Thank goodness for archeologists and the pyramids! Thanks.

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  8. Very cool. Even back then women were asserting themselves in the medical field. =)

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    1. Hi Crystal! Yes, all pretty awesome in my opinion :)

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  9. I wonder, if we went back in time, if they had some great ability for cures that we don't know now. They would know more about blood flow and such due to their mummification process

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    1. You know, that does seem possible. We can't assume we know better. I'm surprised at how knowledgeable the ancients actually were. Time travel is my sci-fi dream come true.

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  10. The earliest recorded physician - amazing! Thanks Sharon, lovely name for her which does her merit.

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    1. An incredible piece of history. Yes, a lovely name, I agree. Thanks, Susan!

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