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Old 30 July 2013, 06:39 PM
Tom o' Bedlam Tom o' Bedlam is offline
 
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Icon95 Egyptians thought the brain was useless?

I've always heard that in the mummification process, the only major organ of the deceased that the Egyptians discarded (as opposed to storing in canopic jars) was the brain, the reason being that they considered it useless. I've always been skeptical of that claim as, while I know the brain wasn't always known to be the originator of thought and movement, I find it difficult to believe that any culture, particularly one as advanced as the Egyptians', would believe an organ that takes up most of the space in your head could literally serve no purpose.

Furthermore, the claim would seem to be refuted by the Edwin Smith Papyrus (ca. 1500 BCE), wherein (according to Wikipedia):

Quote:
The influence of brain injuries on parts of the body is recognized, such as paralysis. The relationship between the location of a cranial injury and the side of the body affected is also recorded, while crushing injuries of vertebrae were noted to impair motor and sensory functions.
I suppose it's possible that this information was lost or just didn't get much traction (the document is noted as being one of the few that approach medicine from a scientific, as opposed to mystical, perspective), but even if that's the case I find it difficult to buy into the idea that had no function.

A somewhat cynical part of me suspects this might have been a myth perpetuated the morticians to get the bereaved off their backs, since they could hardly have kept the brain intact as they pulled it out through the patient's nose, and opening up the skull was probably more trouble than it was worth.

I imagine an exchange like this:

Quote:
Grieving Widow: Wait, what are you doing? How will my husband get by in the afterlife with his brain all pulled apart and left out to rot?

Mortician: Well, uh, y'see... you don't, um, you don't actually need your brain. I mean it doesn't really do anything. It's basically just an accessory, like those weird headdress things we wear.
So I'm wondering... does anyone know of any knowledge or evidence that would conclusively confirm or dismiss the original claim?

Last edited by Tom o' Bedlam; 30 July 2013 at 06:45 PM.
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Old 30 July 2013, 06:55 PM
jimmy101_again jimmy101_again is offline
 
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Didn't they basically puree the brain to get it out of the skull (the skull usually wasn't opened, the brain was removed through the nose)? Perhaps it ended up looking like blood and blood was discarded?
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Old 30 July 2013, 06:58 PM
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GenYus234 GenYus234 is online now
 
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But the fact they would puree it to begin with would make it seem they thought it useless. You don't normally puree things you think useful in their intact state.
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Old 30 July 2013, 06:59 PM
Tom o' Bedlam Tom o' Bedlam is offline
 
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I thought they pulled it out through the nose using specialized hooks. In either case, surely the existence of the brain must have been known?

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Originally Posted by GenYus234 View Post
But the fact they would puree it to begin with would make it seem they thought it useless. You don't normally puree things you think useful in their intact state.
You'd think so, but that seems like circumstancial evidence at best. I guess maybe the bigger question is (barring what I hearby dub the "lazy mortician" hypothesis), "Why exactly did they not attempt to preserve the brain?" Did they think it was actually useless, or just not needed in the afterlife? And whatever they thought about the brain, what did they base it on?
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Old 30 July 2013, 07:21 PM
overyonder overyonder is offline
 
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May be they thought the soul had left the body, and the brain was only the "holding place" for the soul?

OY
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Old 30 July 2013, 07:31 PM
jimmy101_again jimmy101_again is offline
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom o' Bedlam View Post
I thought they pulled it out through the nose using specialized hooks.
Pretty much, but to get it out you need to mash it up so they apparently inserted the hook then spun it. (Kind of like how you scramble and egg while it is still in the shell. )

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You'd think so, but that seems like circumstancial evidence at best. I guess maybe the bigger question is (barring what I hearby dub the "lazy mortician" hypothesis), "Why exactly did they not attempt to preserve the brain?" Did they think it was actually useless, or just not needed in the afterlife? And whatever they thought about the brain, what did they base it on?
Perhaps they didn't preserve the brain because they couldn't? Too much fluid in the brain and to preserve it you have to get rid of the moisture or it'll rot very quickly. After mashing it while getting it out of the skull the tissue wouldn't have much structure. No muscle or membranes (like other organs have) to help it hold shape while it is being desiccated. So perhaps the brain wasn't kept because they couldn't do it?
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Old 30 July 2013, 07:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by overyonder View Post
May be they thought the soul had left the body, and the brain was only the "holding place" for the soul?
I was thinking that, but some reading on the ka (part of the soul) says that the Egyptians thought the ka needed a corporeal body and even food and drink. If they thought the brain was where the ka lived in life, you'd think they try to preserve it after death so the ka would still have a place.
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Old 30 July 2013, 07:41 PM
jimmy101_again jimmy101_again is offline
 
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Perhaps they associated the Ka (and "selfness") to the heart, which they did carefully preserve.

Last edited by jimmy101_again; 30 July 2013 at 07:42 PM. Reason: speeling
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Old 30 July 2013, 07:42 PM
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The heart (lb) was one of the five component of the soul along with the ka. Don't think they shared the heart.
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Old 30 July 2013, 08:26 PM
Tom o' Bedlam Tom o' Bedlam is offline
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jimmy101_again View Post
Perhaps they didn't preserve the brain because they couldn't? Too much fluid in the brain and to preserve it you have to get rid of the moisture or it'll rot very quickly. After mashing it while getting it out of the skull the tissue wouldn't have much structure. No muscle or membranes (like other organs have) to help it hold shape while it is being desiccated. So perhaps the brain wasn't kept because they couldn't do it?
Yeah, from a technical perspective, that seems a pretty reasonable explanation. One might imagine that they then justified the fact with the idea that it wasn't needed.

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Originally Posted by GenYus234 View Post
The heart (lb) was one of the five component of the soul along with the ka. Don't think they shared the heart.
Hmmm. Maybe the fact that the brain wasn't one of these five components is what gave rise to the modern contention that they thought it was useless. Obviously they didn't feel it was necessary for the preservation of the ka and/or ba (sidenote: I've always had difficulty in fully understanding and differentiating the two). I suppose it's not a huge leap for a modern researcher to extrapolate that it was considered unnecessary in the current life as well, even if in truth the Egyptians were well-aware it had a purpose in the living body.
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Old 15 September 2013, 11:17 AM
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As I've understood it, the ancient Egyptians eventually learned a lot about the human body (which was mostly thanks to the mummification rituals), but they never got to our modern level of understanding it. So I've also heard about them not seeing the brain as important, and about them removing it by hooks through the nose. But yeah, it's hard to imagine people not understanding that the brain is important, especially in a culture like ancient Egypt. So I don't know...
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Old 15 September 2013, 01:45 PM
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I was at an exhibit called Lost Egypt a few weeks ago at our Science Center. They mentioned this idea too but added that the ancient Egyptians though memory resided in the heart.
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