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2,000 Year-Old Shipwreck Discovered, Contains Natural Medicines

Elizabeth Renter
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January 14th, 2013
Updated 01/14/2013 at 3:42 am
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romanshipweck 265x165 2,000 Year Old Shipwreck Discovered, Contains Natural Medicines

The aquarium recreated in the museum, where several vials and containers, (still sealed), are preserved.
Photo: EMANUELA APPETITI

Once upon a time, people used plants for healing and it wasn’t referred to as “alternative”. Back then, “traditional” medicine referred to that which had been around the longest, which was healing based on the use of plants and nature. Now, things have changed and we occasionally need a reminder that nature has been providing medicine for millennia and can still be trusted to provide it today. One of those reminders came  just a couple years ago when archaeologists discovered a wooden box full of medicine in a 2,000 year-old sunken ship off the coast of Tuscany.

The ship was believed to have sank around 130 B.C., well over 2,000 years ago. It was transporting wine, glassware, lams, and ceramics. It isn’t clear where the ship originated or what its final destination was, but we do know there was likely a healer on board.

Inside a wooden box, preserved deep under the sea, was a collection of pills. Using DNA sequencing, scientists were able to determine what was inside these pills, and it wasn’t some lab-created, branded pharmaceuticals.

The pills contained all natural plants and materials including crushed celery, onions, carrots, cabbage, alfalfa, chestnuts, radish, yarrow, parsley, nasturtium, hibiscus, and clay. Also within the box was a mortar and pestle, likely used to crush the plants and herbs for the medicinal preparations.

“It’s a spectacular find. They were very well sealed. 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,” said Dr Alain Touwaide, from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington DC.

The finding marks the oldest known remains of ancient medicines. Dr. Alain Touwaide from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington D.C. says that the remedies are those documented in Ancient Greek texts, which were later modeled by Ancient Romans—both of whom can trace their medical practices to Africa, the ‘true birthplace of medicine’.

More than likely, the researchers say, the medicine was used to treat general malaise and those digestive complaints common with sailors on the high seas. To this day, many of the components found within these ancient pills are still used to treat modern ailments—including clay for upset stomachs, celery for rheumatism, and onion for infections.

There are people who would argue that the life expectancy of a person in these ancient times was dramatically less than a person today, and that their herbal medicines weren’t doing anyone any favors. But, this is a narrow-view, failing to look at the shortcomings of sanitation and the spread of disease back then. Now, for instance, we don’t live with open sewage and we all know to cook our foods to a proper temperature.

There are commendable advances that have taken place over the past few thousand years, to be sure. Better housing, more sound infrastructure, and cleaner living in general are just a few. But, there’s a chance we could learn something from our predecessors—namely, that some things should not be forsaken or left behind in the name of advancement; that some things, including natural healing, truly are timeless.

Additional Sources:

AfricaResource

Eurekalert.org

From around the web:

  • AnanthramGK

    Plenty ; I really mean Plenty , of Planetory healing produced are ignored due to lack of knowledge ! Those who know monopolise and corporatise for making huge mountainous moneys !

  • eavedrop44

    No wonder you died young if you were working in a coal mine or something like that, at such a young age the damage was compounded.

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    The ship was believed to have sank around 130 B.C., well over 2,000 years ago. It was transporting wine, glassware, lams, and ceramics. It isn’t clear where the ship originated or what its final destination was, but we do know there was likely a healer on board.

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    i really think that natures offers us when it comes to the things that we need to have.great post !

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  • Peter Hallam

    My naturopathic lecturer at collage once said:
    "If mother nature created an illness, then nature can cure that illness." There is no splitting hairs or exception to the rule. If it is a natural illness you are suffering from, then the answer, and a cure, can be found somewhere in nature.

    The problem with human health and illness really starts when the orthodox medico's and drug companies start screwing with things. Then the rules change. Now the body is subjected to things; processes and ailments mother nature never bargained with; or has taken into account for that matter.

    Then you are in trouble. You have to look to the very drug companies that are responsible for catalyzing your illness and hope, often fruitlessly, that the drug companies will give you an answer to your illness (for free).

    How many elderly people do you know literally taking handfuls of drugs and pills every day. Now it's easy to say "oh, we are living longer and taking pills when you are older is the price you have to pay in order to live longer.

    BUT, my mother inlaw, my grandmother and my grandfather all took lots of pills … and after studying naturopathy for six years, and having access to a MIMS, and after reading up on all the effects the pills had on the human body, it didn't take long to find out that most of the pills they took were needed to counteract the effect of other pills they were prescribed and taking.

    My mother in law, a senior lady, is taking 4 pills out of 6 just to counter the effect of 2. It's a sad joke.

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  • Emma

    I think if people actually took into account the number of people who died young through war and accidental death then the average lifespan would look a lot different.

  • Richard

    When the 10,000 year old ice man was uncovered he had a pouch that contained herbs and had the acupuncture meridian tattooed on his body .

  • Maria

    I really believe that nature provides us with what we need. We should learn to enjoy it and respect it.

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    I think what would have surprised me would have been if they found products stamped by Heron or Bayer.

  • Hello

    Also many were slaves working in terrible conditions from ages as young as children. No wonder you died young if you were working in a coal mine or something like that, at such a young age the damage was compounded.