What did the Ancient Egyptians think caused disease?
Physical representations are often very effective at helping students understand ideas or concepts and, as a rule of thumb, if there’s a piece of explanatory artwork in a textbook then it can be brought to life with students representing the features of the diagram. Here’s one example. Are there any more out there to pass on to colleagues?
So the objective is straightforward – enabling students to understand Ancient Egyptian ideas about the cause of disease.
All you need is:
– something red to represent blood e.g. tins of tomatoes
– a wholemeal fruit bar or similar wrapped up food
1. Arrange some of your students to replicate the diagram of the human body in e.g. White Medicine book p.19 (also Essential Medicine p.9, Edexcel Medicine p.12) – you need one student for each of:
– The head
– The heart
– The stomach
– The bowels
Then, say, 3 students as the channels along the legs and arms and one as the channel to the head.
2. Explain the first aspect of Ancient Egyptian beliefs – that the channels carried blood, air and water from the heart around the body. Represent this by giving the tins of tomatoes to the student playing the part of the heart and ask him or her to pass the one tin to each channel. Have the students pass the tins along the channels.
Explain - while this is taking place the person is well – head beams a large smile!
3. So how does the person become sick?
a) Stop the movement of tins and give the head a fruit bar to “eat” – pass the bar from the head to the stomach and then to the bowels – but keep it there.
Explain - their belief was that rotting food in the bowels sent gases along the channels which caused diseases and stopped blood (and air and water) flowing healthily.
b) Now can the ‘blood’ flow normally? Start the tins moving again but become the seeping gases yourself, intercepting them and taking them away.
Result – the head loses its big smile and looks ill.
Give students a diagram of the body as in textbooks but without annotations. Ask them to annotate it to explain
a) the role of channels
b) how people became ill
Then compare with diagrams in textbooks.
1. How would you improve this activity to make the meaning clearer?
2. Are there any other topics that could be explained using this kind of demonstration?