When I began my reflexology career way back in 1972 it was generally accepted that reflexology began in China. Later, owing to a colour souvenir reproduction (above) of a pictograph from the Physicians tomb in Saqqara in Egypt, dated 2300 BC, a link was also made to Ancient Egypt.
The illustration is purportedly showing a reflexology treatment. This reproduction went ‘viral’, and has since been used to cement the belief of a reflexology link to 3rd Dynasty Egypt.
She offered to look into the background and the various hieroglyphic interpretations of the illustration. A few weeks later she came back with some information. She explained that the main theme was, ‘Do not hurt me’ and from the therapist ‘I will do my best for you, you will honour me’ and so forth.
This pictograph was one of many, all depicting different types of surgery and medical treatments. It was because of this that the consensus of the curator was that it showed a chiropody and manicure treatment, particularly as the pictograph in the tomb shows a type of implement being held by the practitioner.
Evidently the Egyptian upper hierarchy of that time, took great care of their hands and feet to set them apart from ‘ordinary mortals’.
This does not mean that massage and even manipulation of the hands and feet were not used at that time for therapeutic purposes, after all there was an advanced understanding of medicine and surgery in Egypt at that time.
In the early 1980s I had the opportunity to travel in China to interview various influential members of the Acupuncture and medical profession. My aim was to gather as much information about the origins of reflexology in China and pick some ‘gems’ along the way, and come back to the UK with the ‘Holy Grail’ of the Chinese origins of reflexology.
Unfortunately I came back with my tail very much between my legs. I was told that reflexology as we know it did not have its origins in China! Apparently it is quite a modern therapy in that country.
It is romantic and mystical to associate reflexology to China and Egypt, and as I have stated, types of massage to the feet must have been given, except in China where massage of the feet was not the thing to do and was actually frowned upon for various reasons which space does not permit me to go into here.
Europe: Fast forward to 1991
A discovery of the body of an ancient hunter was found in western Europe in 1991. The body had been preserved in the ice and was dated as being 5,300 years old. This in itself was very interesting. However something else came to light which astounded the researchers. The body had meridians and acupuncture points tattooed on the front and back.
It was found that the hunter was suffering from digestive problems which would have caused pain.
Someone with a knowledge of what we now know as acupuncture must have placed the tattoos, as they were also on the back - interestingly also showing the position of points along the stomach meridian! They were made for identification purposes for self treatment, which could be given perhaps with a sharp object or finger pressure.
From this evidence we have to accept that knowledge of what we now know as acupuncture was known in western Europe 2,000 years before any evidence of acupuncture came out of China!
We may speculate but we are none the wiser.
Tony Porter Focused Reflexolgy® A.R.T Founder