2000 Year Old Herbal Remedies Found in Greek Shipwreck

Picture a Roman merchant vessel sailing 2000 years ago in the Mediterranean. It’s nearly to it’s destination when a storm blows in, the ship is slammed into rocks near the shore and sinks to the ocean floor. The ship and it’s cargo sits at the bottom of the ocean until just recently when Archeologists excavate it, under water.  Then several years after glass jars holding 2000 year old pills were excavated, analysis  finally reveals their content.  The pills are herbal medicine.  It is believed they were part of a medical kit, assumed to be used by sailors to stay healthy on long voyages.  DNA analysis has now proven several herbs and vegetables were the components of these pills.

But the pills are only part of the story.  A sort of medical chest was found, maybe a physician was on the ship. The archaeologists found a cup used for bleeding, a surgery hook and 136 drug vials made of wood and several tin containers holding flat green tablets.  The herbal pills were sealed and completely dry even though they have been on the sea floor for 2000 years. (That is absolutely mind blowing.)

It took an international authority on medicinal plants of antiquity Alain Touwaide, at the Smithsonian Institution and the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions in Washington, D.C.  to identify the ingredients.  (I didn’t even know we had a Medical Traditions Preservation institute, need to check that out.)

The findings were presented last week at the Fourth International Symposium on Bio-molecular Archaeology in Copenhagen, Denmark.  The herbal remedies were a combination of many plants including  carrot, radish, parsley, celery, wild onion and cabbage, alfalfa, yarrow and some hibiscus were also part of the mix.

“The plants match those described in ancient texts such as those by the ancient Greek physicians Dioscorides and Galen. According to Touwaide,  “Preliminary analysis of these tablets seems to confirm that the ancient doctors used common plants for their treatments.” Whatever they were used for or however they were ingested or used topically it is certainly incredible to have a specimen that is in tact 2000 years later.  

We have always been able to read about herbal remedies in ancient manuscripts but to hold them in our hands and be able to analyze them must be unbelievable.  Finding this ancient herbal medicine reminds us of our reliance on herbs throughout history.  As the saying’s go, history repeats itself and what goes around comes around.

More on this story here:  http://greece.greekreporter.com/2010/09/10/2000-year-old-pills-found-in-greek-shipwreck/


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