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National Academy of Sciences, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 4(110), p. 1193-1196, 2013

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1216776110



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Ingredients of a 2,000-y-old medicine revealed by chemical, mineralogical, and botanical investigations

This paper is made freely available by the publisher.
This paper is made freely available by the publisher.

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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 κoλλυ´ρα , 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.