Before the advent of modern medicine, injuries as simple as a scraped knee posed a significant risk of infection. Ancient Indian surgery had a highly skilled field dedicated to tending wounds, known as Shalya Tantra. It advocated that foreign bodies like dirt, hair, and bone needed to be removed from the injury. The wound had to be cleaned before sutures were applied.

The Egyptians were skilled at treating injuries (They were quite familiar with bandages). Their medicine system was one that combined beliefs around magic with empirical observation. They would treat wounds with honey, and a papyrus scroll dating to around 1650 BCE details at least 48 types of injuries. Honey was useful for its antibacterial properties. Along with other substances, the Egyptians used lint and grease, which are still helpful in treating wounds today. Both the nature of injuries and their treatment feature heavily in civilizations such as the Norse. Gunnlaug’s saga Ormstungu tells of a warrior who has his ankle twisted and bandaged. Viking skeletons from the era show this was a shared experience, with many having healed or partially healed fractures and cuts.

Modern surgical techniques became more common in the 18th century. Surgery began to be seen as its own distinctive medicinal field during this period, with breakthroughs such as antiseptics. The introduction of antibiotics would prove vital in reducing mortality from wound infection, and today there are over 5000 wound care products.

Artist: Dayanna Knight

A child with a scraped knee.

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Credit: Dayanna Knight and Open Past

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