In 1974, divers discovered a 2,000 year old trading vessel near the port of Piombino in Tuscany, Italy. Fifteen years later, a medical kit was located amongst the wreckage. And just last week, DNA sequencing allowed scientists to analyze the kit’s contents and, in effect, crack open some of the ancient secrets of the ancient physicians. So, what did they find?
Ancient Secrets of Ancient Physicians
The trading vessel in question sank sometime around 130 BC in sixty feet of water. It measured about fifty feet long and was used to transport large jars of wine, glassware, ceramics, and oil lamps. However, to modern archaeologists, its most significant holding isn’t the cargo but rather, a simple wooden chest.
The chest held a variety of medical supplies, including spatulas, suction cups, a mortar and pestle, as well as one hundred and thirty-six tin-lined, sealed wooden vials. Ancient pills were found inside these vials.
The pills contained ground-up plants and herbs such as celery, onions, carrots, cabbage, alfalfa, and chestnuts. Separate extracts of parsley, nasturtium, radish, yarrow, and hibiscus were also discovered. Researchers believe that the pills were either taken orally or dissolved and rubbed on cuts and infections. Interestingly enough, the various ingredients match those recorded in ancient Greek and Roman texts.
The plants and vegetables were probably crushed with a mortar and pestle – we could still see the fibres in the tablets. They also contained clay, which even today is used to treat gastrointestinal problems. – Dr. Alain Touwaide, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
The pills represent the “oldest known archaeological remains of ancient pharmaceuticals.” And as stated by Dr. Touwaide, they were most likely used to treat gastrointestinal disorders such as dysentery and diarrhea.
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
The DNA analysis of this lost medical kit represents a significant breakthrough. It has already shed much light on the ailments facing ancient sailors as well as the treatments devised to deal with those ailments. We have only touched the tip of the iceberg of ancient medical knowledge. But as the kit and other discoveries like it yield new information, we will continue to unearth lost secrets…the lost secrets of the ancient physicians.