Name of Object:


Also known as:

Medical implement to press down the tongue


Cairo, Egypt

Holding Museum:

Museum of Islamic Art

About Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo

Date of Object:

Hegira 3rd century / AD 9th century

Museum Inventory Number:


Material(s) / Technique(s):

Cast copper.


Length 12.5 cm

Period / Dynasty:





An implement that resembles a spoon, with one end that has a flattened oval shape. The object was probably used by doctors during the examination of the mouth and throat and in the course of surgery to remove the tonsils. Excavations which took place in the city of Fustat – the first capital of Islamic Egypt established by Amr ibn al-'As in the year AH 21 / AD 641 – revealed a large cache of surgical instruments, considered to be the oldest extant of their kind. Instruments similar to those which were uncovered in Fustat have appeared in the descriptions of the surgeon from al-Andalus, Abu al-Qasim Khalaf bin al-'Abbas al-Zahrawi (AH 329–404 / AD 940–1013), in his surgical encyclopaedia, Al-Tasrif liman 'ajaz 'an al-Taalif, considered the richest and largest source of surgical knowledge of the period, and an important medical and surgical reference book in the centuries that followed. The encyclopaedia contains more than 150 illustrations of surgical instruments with detailed descriptions about using them in different surgical operations.

View Short Description

Muslim physicians knew surgery and practised it. This tool demonstrates that physicians gave much importance to medicine and medical tools in various areas of treatment and how they developed them. A detailed description of these tools can be found in the book of al-Zahrawi, an Andalusian surgeon.

How date and origin were established:

The implement is dated based on information from various historical sources that attest to the flourishing state of medicine and associated sciences during the Abbasid period.

How Object was obtained:

The object was donated to the museum by Doctor Henry Amin 'Awad in 1975. As a scholar he is greatly interested in the study of human heritage, especially the Islamic arts, and he has made a number of studies in this field.

How provenance was established:

It is likely that the object was produced in Egypt, since it was discovered in the city of Fustat. Furthermore, the flourishing state of the sciences, especially medicine, and the numerous hospitals in Egypt during this time make an Egyptian provenance likely.

Selected bibliography:

Abd al-Rahim, Abd al-Rahim Khalaf, Al-Adawat Jirahiya wa al-Awani al-Tibiya fi al-'asr al-Islami min al-Qarn al-Awal hatta al-Qarn al-Tasi' lil Hijra [Surgical Instruments and Medical Vessels in the Islamic Period from the First Century to the Ninth Century], MA thesis, University of Cairo, 1999.
–––––––, Quand les sciences parlent arabe VIIIe-XVe ap. J.-C./IIe-IXe siècle H, Cairo, exhibition catalogue, 2003.
Honcke, S.,Shams al-Arab tastaa' ala al-gharb [Sun of the Arabs Shines on the West] (Trans. Baidun, Farouq Wadso, Kamal), Beirut, 1981.
'Awad, H. A., “Al- Jiraha fi al-'asr al-Islami [Surgery in the Islamic Period]”, Majalat al-Dirasat al-Islamiya [Journal of Islamic Studies], Vol. 3, Cairo, 1988, p.273.

Citation of this web page:

Al-Sayyed Muhammad Khalifa Hammad "Spoon" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020.;ISL;eg;Mus01;46;en

Prepared by: Al-Sayyed Muhammad Khalifa HammadAl-Sayyed Muhammad Khalifa Hammad

He holds a BA in Islamic Antiquities from the Faculty of Art, Cairo University and an MA in the same field from Assiut University. He has been working at the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo, since 1974 and attended a training course at Vienna Museum in 1977. He has supervised sections of glass and manuscripts and, currently, coins. At the Museum he has participated in preparing exhibitions at home and abroad and has been a member of several inventory committees. From 1988 to 1999 he worked as a lecturer at Om al-Qura University, Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and registered and organised the display of the acquisitions of the Civilisation Museum at the Shari'a and Islamic Studies Faculty at the University.

Copyedited by: Majd Musa
Translation by: Amal Sachedina (from the Arabic).
Translation copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez

Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.

True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.

MWNF Working Number: ET 86


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