Thursday, 23 September 2010

One "therian" a day...

In 130 B.C. a Greek ship sank off the coast of Tuscany, Italy.
How can this be relevant to the history of medicine? It can because in 1974 the shipwreck was found and years later a box full of ancient medicines, prepared by the physicians of ancient Greece, was discovered amongst other objects.
Many of the pills were completely dry and have recently been analysed by Robert Fleisher of the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park (Washington, DC), who reported on his study on Monday 13th September 2010 at the Fourth International Symposium on Biomolecular Archaeology in Copenhagen, Denmark. Analysing the DNA fragments of two of the pills, Fleisher discovered that each tablet is a mixture of more than 10 plants extracts. Carrot, radish, celery, wild onion, oak, cabbage, alfalfa, yarrow and hibiscus are only some of the ingredients.
Alain Touwaide, scientific director of the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions, is studying whether these plants extracts are now known to treat illnesses effectively. He also aims to discover therian, an ancient remedy, and to document exactly the measurements ancient doctors used to manufacture it.

(photo credit :


Francine Millard said...

This is fascinating! The link to the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions leads to some great online resources for medical historians. This one - is from the Harvard University Library Contagion site. It covers tropical diseases such as malaria and yellow fever.

Valeria Fioretti said...

The Institution for Preservation of Medical Traditions has just published an article about this discovery, you can find it here: