Tuesday, January 22, 2013

History: Ancient Medicine

Over at WTVM.com, which seems an unusual place for nautical news, this interesting if brief article speaks to the ingenious ways that our ancient ancestors kept themselves healthy at sea.

Among the items found in a shipwreck off the coast of Tuscany was a metal cylinder, hermetically sealed after so long under salt water. The wreck, a Roman vessel named Relitto del Pozzino, was originally found in the Gulf of Baratti in 1974. Studies are ongoing on its cargo and contents, and the vile of green-gray tablets is just one of the many amazing bits of ancient medicine still being analyzed. From the article:

[Archeologist and lead researcher Gianna] Giachi said that the composition and shape of the tablets suggest they may have been used to treat eyes, perhaps as an eyewash.

The issue of dry eyes, particularly out in the elements at sea, is still a concern and evidently the Romans had a bit of relief for those exposed to wind, salt and sun. The tablets were made with a mixture of olive oil, pine resin and starch as a binder along with various herbs that have been proven to encourage eye health. How the tablets were used is not discussed, but one can imagine that they were perhaps dissolved in a saline solution and administered much like modern eye drops.

The article ends with comments from Dr. Mark Fromer, an ophthalmologist, who said:

... it makes sense that 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... 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."

I couldn't agree more.

Header: Odysseus and the Sirens, a Roman mosaic from Tunisia c 2nd century CE via Wikipedia


Timmy! said...

That is interesting, Pauline. And not too surprising since, as we have discussed before, sailing ships were pretty much on the cutting edge of all types of technology (including medicine) for many centuries...

Pauline said...

So true. And you can definitely see how this type of ailment would be an ongoing problem at sea.