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In 130 BC, a ship fashioned from the wood of walnut trees and bulging with medicines and Syrian glassware sank off the coast of Tuscany, Italy. Archaeologists found its precious load 20 years ago and now, for the first time, archaeobotanists have been able to examine and analyse pills that were prepared by the physicians of ancient Greece.
"For the first time, we have physical evidence of what we have in writing from the ancient Greek physicians Dioscorides and Galen," says Alain Touwaide of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.
Drugs described by Dioscorides and another Greek physician known as Galen of Pergamon have often been dismissed as ineffectual quackery. "Scholars and scientists have often dismissed the literature on such medicines, and expressed doubt about their possible efficacy, which they attributed only to the presence of opium," says Touwaide. He hopes to resolve this debate by exploring whether the plant extracts in the pills are now known to treat illnesses effectively.
He also hopes to discover therian – a medicine described by Galen in the second century AD that contains more than 80 different plant extracts – and document the exact measurements ancient doctors used to manufacture the pills. "Who knows, these ancient medicines could open new paths for pharmacological research," says Touwaide.
Session 1: 10.50 – 11.10
Composition of pharmaceuticals from a 1st century BC/AD
Roman shipwreck based on chloroplast DNA sequences
Robert Fleischer1, Alain Touwaide2, Emanuela Appetiti2, Danica Harbaugh1,2 & John
1Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics, MRC 5503, Smithsonian
Conservation Biology Institute, P.O. Box 37012, Washington, DC 20013-7012
2Department of Botany, MRC-166, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian
Institution, P.O. Box 37012, Washington, DC 20013-7012
We report here on chloroplast DNA sequences obtained from multiple extractions and
PCR amplifications from two large “pills” obtained from a box of medicines found in
a 1st Century BC/AD Roman shipwreck with the collaboration of the Soprintendenza
per i Beni Archeologici di Firenze, Italy. We conducted the extractions and PCR
setups in an isolated, ancient DNA laboratory usually used for animal DNA analysis,
and obtained multiple short sequences from each pill. Many of these sequences could
be aligned by “blast” comparisons to sequences on Genbank. Some sequences turned
out to be artifacts or of bacterial, human or other contaminant origin, but most
appropriately matched Angiosperm sequences. In total we found sequences reflecting
more than ten different types of plants. We obtained mostly replicated evidence
(multiple extractions, PCRs and different gene regions) of Hibiscus, Apium (celery), a
bean, an aster, pepper, Persea, alfalfa and other taxa, although in some cases
resolution of exact taxa could not be achieved because of short length of sequence
reads. Nearly all of the sequences we obtained could not be ruled out as items that
would potentially be found in pharmaceuticals from this period and region based on
Preliminary analyses of the ancient pills suggest they contain sunflower, a plant that is not thought to have existed in the Old World before Europeans discovered the Americas in the 1400s.
Originally posted by guohua
reply to post by Wolfenz
Your correct and so much has been forgotten to the Western world of medicine.
But, for me, Not if but when The SHTF, it'll be Great to have an Herbalist with me.
edit on 12-9-2010 by guohua because: spelling,,, I'm really bad at it.