Ancient medicine found on shipwreck

Jan. 8, 2013 at 3:27 PM
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ROME, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Pill-shaped discs found in an ancient Roman shipwreck off the Italian coast were medicinal, probably used to create eye-drops, researchers say.

An analysis by scientist at the University of Pisa found the discs, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, contained zinc, iron oxide, starch, beeswax, pine resin, a mix of animal and vegetable fats, flax fiber, coal, starch, grains and pollens, the Italian news agency ANSA reported Tuesday.

"In archaeology, the discovery of ancient medicines is very rare, as is knowledge of their chemical composition," the researchers wrote in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "The data revealed extraordinary information on the composition of the tablets and on their possible therapeutic use."

The tablets were found on the Pozzini Shipwreck, discovered in 1974, which dates back to about 140-130 B.C. and has also yielded vases, amphorae from Rhodes for transporting wine, lamps and pitchers for pouring wine, researchers said.

The contents suggest the ship, or at least some of its cargo, came from the coastal area of Greece, they said.

The finding of additional medical equipment, including an iron probe and a bronze vessel possibly used for bloodletting or for applying heat to ease aches, suggest a physician may have been a passenger on the boat traveling with his professional equipment, the researchers said.

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