How many of us grew up hearing, “respect your elders; they know best”? As much as we may not have wanted to hear it at the time, as we grew and matured, we gradually started to see it was true. Perhaps our elders were always one step ahead of us – even prehistorically.
In early January, archaeologists investigating an ancient shipwreck off the coast of Tuscany uncovered a unique find: a tightly closed tin container with extraordinarily well-preserved medicine dating back to approximately 140-130 B.C. The results of deep analysis offer a sneak peek into the true complexity and sophistication of ancient medications. According to lead researcher Gianna Giachi,
“The research highlights the continuity from then until now in the use of some substances for the treatment of human diseases. The research also shows the care that was taken in choosing complex mixtures of products – olive oil, pine resin, starch – in order to get the desired therapeutic effect and to help in the preparation and application of medicine.”
Were our ancestors paving the way for our medical advancements? Maybe; but perhaps not in the exact way we would think. Instead of thinking technologically, let’s consider something even more primal: nature. To many, this discovery indicates that natural medicines are not only practical, but have been used for thousands of years because of their effectiveness. Quoting Alain Touwaide, scientific director of the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions,
“This information potentially represents essentially several centuries of clinical trials. If natural medicine is used for centuries and centuries, it’s not because it doesn’t work.”
Although the shipwrecked boat, the Relitto del Pozzino, was first discovered in 1974, the analysis of the ancient pills found on board only began two years ago. After several studies conduced by light microscopy and a scanning electron microscope to analyze the pills’ organic elements, it has been determined that the medication was actually used to treat dry eye, a condition still prevalent today.
Since very few ancient medications have been discovered elsewhere, this finding provides great insight into prehistoric medical treatments. Additionally, it shows us that common problems facing men and women thousands of years ago haven’t changed, even today. That, or our ancestors were just always looking out for our best interests – even for our eyes. Remember: take your pills and eat your carrots!