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How Mouldy Bread Saved Lives in Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt is famous for its pyramids, mummies, and hieroglyphs, but did you know that it was also a pioneer in medicine? The ancient Egyptians had a sophisticated system of health care that included surgery, dentistry, and pharmacology. They also used some surprising remedies, such as mouldy bread, to treat infections and wounds.

How Mouldy Bread Saved Lives in Ancient Egypt
How Mouldy Bread Saved Lives in Ancient Egypt

The Power of Penicillin

Mouldy bread may not sound appetizing, but it can actually be a life-saver. That’s because some types of mould produce a substance called penicillin, which is a powerful antibiotic that can kill harmful bacteria. Penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928, but the ancient Egyptians had already been using it for thousands of years.

The ancient Egyptians noticed that some mouldy bread had a healing effect on open wounds and infections. They applied it directly on the affected area, or ate it as a medicine. They also used other mouldy foods, such as cheese and beer, for the same purpose. They did not know the exact mechanism of how penicillin worked, but they believed that it was a gift from the gods.

The Evidence of Mouldy Bread

How do we know that the ancient Egyptians used mouldy bread as an antibiotic? There are several sources of evidence that support this claim. One of them is the medical papyri, which are ancient documents that describe various diseases and treatments. Some of these papyri mention the use of mouldy bread for infections and wounds12.

Another source of evidence is the archaeological findings. Some mummies have been found with traces of mouldy bread on their bodies, suggesting that they were treated with it before they died3. Moreover, some ancient tombs have been found with jars of mouldy bread inside them, possibly as an offering to the gods or as a provision for the afterlife4.

The Legacy of Mouldy Bread

The ancient Egyptians were not the only ones who used mouldy bread as an antibiotic. Other cultures, such as China, India, and Greece, also discovered its benefits independently. However, the knowledge of penicillin was lost or forgotten over time, until it was rediscovered by Fleming in the modern era.

Today, penicillin is one of the most widely used antibiotics in the world. It has saved millions of lives from deadly diseases such as pneumonia, syphilis, and meningitis. However, penicillin is not without its drawbacks. Some people are allergic to it, and some bacteria have become resistant to it. Therefore, scientists are constantly looking for new and better antibiotics to fight infections.

The ancient Egyptians were ahead of their time in many ways, and medicine was one of them. They used mouldy bread as an antibiotic long before anyone else did. They may not have understood how it worked, but they knew that it worked. They were not afraid to experiment with nature and find solutions to their problems. They were truly ingenious and innovative.


1: Ancient Egyptian medicine – Wikipedia 2: Egyptian Medicine – World History Encyclopedia 3: What was ancient Egyptian medicine like? – Medical News Today 4: The ancient Egyptians treated some of the sick by eating mouldy bread …


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