The Berlin Papyrus: or when the Pythagorean Theorem was written 1000 years before the Birth of Pythagoras

Papyrus_Berlin_6619
Berlin Papyrus 6619

Is there a child on this planet who has gone to high school and not been taught the Pythagorean Theorem in some shape or form? I am not sure that many African children know that the so-called Pythagorean Theorem was written by their ancestors over 1000 years before Pythagoras was born, and on African soil. You heard me right: Pythagorean Theorem was written on the Berlin Papyrus or Berlin Papyrus 6619, a papyrus from ancient Egypt from the Middle Kingdom. This papyrus dates back from the second half of the 12th (c. 1990–1800 BC) or 13th Dynasty (c. 1800 BC – 1649 BC).

The papyrus is one of the primary sources of ancient Egyptian mathematical and medical knowledge, including the first known documentation concerning pregnancy test procedures. See our ancestors were already trying to test pregnancy! Amazing!

The first problem found on the Berlin Papyrus states, “You are told the area of a square of 100 square cubits is equal to that of two smaller squares. The side of one is ½ + ¼ the side of the other. What are the sides of the two unknown squares.” In modern terms, we would express this as x2 + y2 = 100 and x = (3/4)y, yielding to y = 8, and x = 6. Although the papyrus shows a solution using Egyptian multiplication and a somewhat different way of solving it today, it is understood that they most likely had a good knowledge of the Pythagorean Theorem. It is written in Hieratic script.

Next time you visit the Egyptian Museum Berlin, don’t just look at the bust of Queen Nefertiti which is next to the Berlin Papyrus and dwarfs it, but check it out also.

Papyrus Ebers: One of the World’s Oldest Medical Document

Ebers Papyrus - remedy of cancer
Ebers Papyrus – remedy for cancer

Today, we will be talking about the Papyrus Ebers or Ebers Papyrus, which is among the oldest and most important medical papyri of Ancient Egypt and of the world. This papyrus is a medical papyrus of herbal knowledge, and dates back to c. 1550 BC. It is believed to have been copied from earlier texts. It is 110-page scroll, and is about 20 m long. It is among the world’s oldest preserved medical documents.

From c. 33rd century BC until Persian invasion in 525 BC, Egyptian medicine remained one of the world’s most advanced, and was used in some non-invasive surgery, setting of bones, and an extensive set of pharmacopeia. Even Homer of the Odyssey recognized this when he said, “In Egypt, the men are more skilled in medicine than any of human kind” and “the Egyptians were skilled in medicine more than any other art“.

Georg Ebers
Georg Ebers

The Papyrus Ebers is one of the oldest medical papyri still well-preserved. It was given the name Ebers, after the man who purchased it in Luxor (Thebes) in the winter of 1873-74, Georg Ebers, a German Egyptologist and novelist. It is written in hieratic Egyptian writing and preserves the most voluminous record of ancient Egyptian medicine known. It contains about 700 magical formulas and remedies, for things such as asthma, evacuation of belly, bowels, birth control, guinea worms (this remedy is still the standard practice today, over 3500 years later), and even cancer. There is also a chapter titled Book of Hearts, which deals with mental disorders such as depression and dementia.

Ebers Papyrus - remedy for asthma
Ebers Papyrus – remedy for asthma

One of the most common remedies described in the papyrus is ochre, or medicinal clay, which was prescribed for intestinal and eye complaints. Yellow ochre was prescribed as a remedy for urological complaints.

The Papyrus Ebers is currently kept at the Leipzig University‘s library (Ebers was chair of the Egyptology department there) in Germany. If you are in Leipzig, go visit. Please check out the Ancient Egyptian Medicine website, which talks in details not only about the Ebers Papyrus, but also about other famous Papyri such as the Edwin Smith Papyrus (c. 1600 BC), the Kahun Gynecological Papyrus (c. 1800 BC), and herbal remedies, and nutrition of Ancient Egypt.