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, 110 (4), 1193-6

Ingredients of a 2,000-y-old Medicine Revealed by Chemical, Mineralogical, and Botanical Investigations

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Ingredients of a 2,000-y-old Medicine Revealed by Chemical, Mineralogical, and Botanical Investigations

Gianna Giachi et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.

Abstract

In archaeology, the discovery of ancient medicines is very rare, as is knowledge of their chemical composition. In this paper we present results combining chemical, mineralogical, and botanical investigations on the well-preserved contents of a tin pyxis discovered onboard the Pozzino shipwreck (second century B.C.). The contents consist of six flat, gray, discoid tablets that represent direct evidence of an ancient medicinal preparation. The data revealed extraordinary information on the composition of the tablets and on their possible therapeutic use. Hydrozincite and smithsonite were by far the most abundant ingredients of the Pozzino tablets, along with starch, animal and plant lipids, and pine resin. The composition and the form of the Pozzino tablets seem to indicate that they were used for ophthalmic purposes: the Latin name collyrium (eyewash) comes from the Greek name κoλλυρα, which means "small round loaves." This study provided valuable information on ancient medical and pharmaceutical practices and on the development of pharmacology and medicine over the centuries. In addition, given the current focus on natural compounds, our data could lead to new investigations and research for therapeutic care.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Figures

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
The A/6 pyxis before it was opened (A) and the pyxis showing its contents (B).
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
(A) The front and (B) profile of a tablet found in the A/6 pyxis. (C) Impression on the surface of the tablet left by pressure from some kind of fabric.
Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.
FTIR spectrum of (A) the organic components of the Pozzino tablet (black line) in comparison with the spectra (gray lines) derived respectively from (B) the wheat flour boiled in water and dried and (C) reference starch.
Fig. 4.
Fig. 4.
Total ion current (TIC) chromatogram of the trimethylsilylated hydrolysable and soluble components obtained by GC/MS. 7ODA, 7-oxo-didehydroabietic acid; AX, monocarboxylic fatty acids of chain length x; AXbr, branched monocarboxylic fatty acids of chain length x; AX:Y, monocarboxylic fatty acids of chain length x and degree of unsaturation y; DA, dehydroabietic acid; diAX, α,ω-dicarboxylic fatty acids of chain length x; IS, n-tridecanoic acid internal standard; OHx, n-alkanols of chain length x; XOHAX, hydroxy fatty acids of chain length x and with hydroxy group at position X.
Fig. 5.
Fig. 5.
Plant remains. (A) Fiber of flax (LM). (B) Fiber of flax (SEM). (C) Starch grain (Lugol staining, LM). (D) The same starch grain at polarizing LM. (E and F) Starch grain at LM and polarizing LM. (G and H) Pollen grain of Olea europaea (LM: optical cross-section and exine surface focus). (I) Group of pollen grains (LM).

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