The Journey of Discovering Skull Base Anatomy in Ancient Egypt and the Special Influence of Alexandria

Ali M. Elhadi, M.D.; Samuel Kalb, M.D.; Luis Perez-Orribo, M.D.; Andrew S. Little, M.D.; Robert F. Spetzler, M.D.; Mark C. Preul, M.D.

Disclosures

Neurosurg Focus. 2012;33(2):e2 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

The field of anatomy, one of the most ancient sciences, first evolved in Egypt. From the Early Dynastic Period (3100 BC) until the time of Galen at the end of the 2nd century AD, Egypt was the center of anatomical knowledge, including neuroanatomy. Knowledge of neuroanatomy first became important so that sacred rituals could be performed by ancient Egyptian embalmers during mummification procedures. Later, neuroanatomy became a science to be studied by wise men at the ancient temple of Memphis. As religious conflicts developed, the study of the human body became restricted. Myths started to replace scientific research, squelching further exploration of the human body until Alexander the Great founded the city of Alexandria. This period witnessed a revolution in the study of anatomy and functional anatomy. Herophilus of Chalcedon, Erasistratus of Chios, Rufus of Ephesus, and Galen of Pergamon were prominent physicians who studied at the medical school of Alexandria and contributed greatly to knowledge about the anatomy of the skull base. After the Royal Library of Alexandria was burned and laws were passed prohibiting human dissections based on religious and cultural factors, knowledge of human skull base anatomy plateaued for almost 1500 years. In this article the authors consider the beginning of this journey, from the earliest descriptions of skull base anatomy to the establishment of basic skull base anatomy in ancient Egypt.

Introduction

The earliest descriptions of the anatomy of the skull base date to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. It has been claimed that anatomy was born in ancient Egypt or at least was practiced there somewhat systematically, perhaps because of religious rituals involving preparation of the body and its organs for the next realm of life after death.[12] Focusing on the earliest descriptions to the establishment of basic cranial, including the skull base, anatomy in ancient Egypt, this historical review tracks the very beginning of the anatomical journey that eventually formed the knowledge base underlying the success of the neurosurgical specialty of skull base surgery.

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