Jason Herbeck, professor of French and chair of the Department of World Languages co-authored a paper accepted for publication in the The
American Journal of Surgery. The forthcoming article, “Ancient Surgeons: A Characterization of Mesopotamian Surgical Practices,” examines surgical practices in the Ancient Mesopotamian civilization, the earliest known, which emerged in the fourth millennium BCE.
According to the authors, while studies show the advent of medicine, there is little understanding of the origins of surgery. The paper seeks to describe the characteristics and medical acumen of the surgeons of the first civilization by way of source documents and commentary on Mesopotamian medicine. Indeed, early Mesopotamian tablets reveal evidence of the incisional drainage of a scalp abscess and empyema, advanced wound care, fracture alignment and possible caesarians without evidence of wound suturing, emergency procedures, trephination or circumcision. While the asû and āšipu understood disease processes, strong evidence of an inextricable connection between spiritual and diagnostic/curative roles exists. The paper finds that Mesopotamian physicians were diagnosticians and healers, approaching surgery as part of their holistic practice rather than as a separate entity. They utilized surgery as an endpoint to a careful process aided by objective evaluation and spiritual incantation.
Alison J. White (University of Washington School of Medicine), JoAnn Scurlock (Elmhust College, emerita) and John Mayberry (St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center) co-author the article along with Herbeck whose primary contribution to the paper involved translating (from the French) early Mesopotamian tablets into English.