Did you know that the idea of capturing knowledge and expertise (e.g. decisions) in “if-then” rules dates back to 17th century BC/BCE when an ancient Egyptian papyrus scroll codified the knowledge of surgeons. The papyrus was purchased by Edwin Smith in 1862 and translated by James H. Breasted in 1920.  It is known as the Edwin Smith Papyrus.

Plate X and XI of the Edwin Smith papyrus including the five cervical spinal injury cases in hieratic script.


It is believed to be a copy of an ancient composite manuscript which contained, in addition to the original author’s text (3000-2500 B.C.), a commentary added a few hundred years later in the form of 69 explanatory notes (glosses). It contains 48 systematically arranged case histories, beginning with injuries of the head and proceeding downward to the thorax and spine, where the document unfortunately breaks off. These cases are typical rather than individual, and each presentation of a case is divided into title, examination, diagnosis, and treatment. Of the 48 cases described in the Edwin Smith Papyrus, 27 concern head trauma and 6 deal with spine trauma.  3 Of the 27 head injuries, 4 are deep scalp wounds exposing the skull, and 11 are skull fractures. Click here to view an index of all if-then rules/cases.

James Henry Breasted in his office at Haskell Hall in 1929 next to plates of the Edwin Smith Surgical PapyrusThe scribe of over 3,500 years ago had copied at least eighteen columns of the venerable treatise and had reached the bottom of a column when, pausing in the middle of a line, in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of a word, he laid down his pen and pushed aside  forever the great Surgical Treatise he had been copying, leaving 15½ inches (39 cm.) bare and unwritten at the end of his roll.





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