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Ancient Pills Found in Shipwreck Offer Rare Insight Into Early Medicine
Date:1/8/2013

om the original tablets was studied with light microscopy and a scanning electron microscope, Giachi explained. DNA sequencing was used to analyze the organic elements.

Other experts in the field lauded the discovery as a rare find that offered valuable clues to the actual types of materials used in ancient medicine.

"What we know about ancient medicine is largely contained in manuscripts, often corrupt -- copied and recopied and fragmentary," said Michael Sappol, an historian in the history of medicine division of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. "When the manuscripts refer to plants, it's not always evident what they're referring to. There's a lot we don't know."

Dr. Mark Fromer, an ophthalmologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said it makes sense that the medicine that was discovered on the ship was an eye wash to treat dry eye, a common condition even today. "It's easy to make: it's saline, which has a pH [acid balance] close to tears," he explained. "It's fascinating to realize that the problems that faced men and women thousands of years ago haven't changed."

More information

Learn more about the history of medicine from the U.S. National Museum of Health and Medicine.

SOURCES: Gianna Giachi, chemist, Archeological Heritage of Tuscany, Florence, Italy; Alain Touwaide, Ph.D., scientific director, Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions, Washington D.C.; Michael Sappol, Ph.D., historian, history of medicine division, U.S. National Library of Medicine, U.S. National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.; Mark Fromer, M.D., ophthalmologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York; Jan. 7-11, 2013, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences


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