BACKGROUND: Ancient Egypt might be considered the cradle of medicine. The modern literature is, however, sometimes rather too enthusiastic regarding the procedures that are attributed an Egyptian origin. I briefly present and analyze the claims regarding orthopedic surgery in Egypt, what was actually done by the Egyptians, and what may have been incorrectly ascribed to them.
METHODS: I reviewed the original sources and also the modern literature regarding surgery in ancient Egypt, concentrating especially on orthopedic surgery.
RESULTS: As is well known, both literary sources and the archaeological/osteological material bear witness to treatment of various fractures. The Egyptian painting, often claimed to depict the reduction of a dislocated shoulder according to Kocher's method, is, however, open to interpretation. Therapeutic amputations are never depicted or mentioned in the literary sources, while the specimens suggested to demonstrate such amputations are not convincing.
INTERPRETATION: The ancient Egyptians certainly treated fractures of various kinds, and with varying degrees of success. Concerning the reductions of dislocated joints and therapeutic amputations, there is no clear evidence for the existence of such procedures. It would, however, be surprising if dislocations were not treated, even though they have not left traces in the surviving sources. Concerning amputations, the general level of Egyptian surgery makes it unlikely that limb amputations were done, even if they may possibly have been performed under extraordinary circumstances