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Welcome to History Buff, a blog for history lovers everywhere! History Buff brings news stories about archaeology from around the world together on one site. From finds in ancient Egypt to new discoveries in anthropology, History Buff wants to know. And feel free to stop by History Buff's ** Author Interviews** for Q&As with authors of historical fiction. Enjoy!

Michelle Moran
Historical fiction author

As an historical fiction writer I am fascinated by news stories featuring the past as it's unearthed and reimagined and brought to life. I spend a
large quantity of time searching for news in archaeology and history. Once in a great while a new archaeological discovery will act as an inspiration for what I'm currently writing. But most of the time the news stories I read are simply interesting tidbits of history. Unfortunately, I have disallowed comments because I travel so frequently that I can neither monitor nor respond to them. But I would still love to share the history that I find fascinating each day. So welcome! And feel free to visit my website at www.michellemoran.com.

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2.13.2008

Health-care plan in ancient Egypt? Research suggests more than spells, prayers

S|New Scientist Magazine

As Egyptian mummies go, Asru is a major celebrity. During her life in the 8th century B.C., she was known for her singing at the temple of Amun in Karnak; now she's famous for her medical problems. Forensic studies have revealed that although Asru lived into her 60s, she was not a well woman. She had furred-up arteries, desert lung (pneumoconiosis) caused by breathing in sand, osteoarthritis, a slipped disc, periodontal disease and possibly diabetes, as well as parasitic worms in her intestine and bladder. Her last years must have been full of pain and suffering. After all, what could her doctor do to help? Say a few prayers and recite a spell or two?

If you read the history books, that's about as much as Asru could expect. But not according to Jackie Campbell at the KNH Center for Biomedical Egyptology at the University of Manchester in England. Her research suggests that Asru's doctor probably consulted a handbook of remedies and prescribed something to soothe her cough, deaden the pain in her joints and perhaps even expel some of those worms. What's more, Campbell's findings indicate that Asru's doctor had more than 1,000 years of pharmaceutical expertise to draw on.

If she's right, the history of medicine needs rewriting.

The biggest obstacle to determining the ancient Egyptians' grasp of pharmacology has been translation, their pharmacy records left on a handful of papyrus scrolls in a long-forgotten language.

"I'm not a linguistics expert so I used science to authenticate the prescriptions," Campbell says. With most drugs extracted from plants, her first check was whether a plant named in a prescription grew or was traded in Egypt at the time the papyri were written. If it wasn't, she could rule it out. Fortunately, the flora of ancient Egypt is well-known. Campbell's second approach was pharmacological: Could the named ingredient have worked the way a prescription indicated? Normally, this would be the province of a forensic chemist, who would take a sample, analyze its constituents and check for biological activity. Sadly, archaeologists have yet to find any pots of ointment or neatly molded suppositories. "But we had something better," she says. "Recipes."

Detailed prescriptions

Although often prefaced by a prayer or spell, each prescription provides all the information needed to reproduce the remedy, from its ingredients and method of preparation right down to the dose.

They follow a standard format, listing the active ingredient first, followed by stabilizers, flavorings to mask unpleasant tastes, perhaps a soothing agent to help it down and sometimes secondary drugs to alleviate the side effects of the principal drug. Last of all comes the medium, or "vehicle," in which everything is mixed.

Focusing on four key papyri, which contain 1,000 prescriptions and date from 1,850 B.C. to about 1,200 B.C., Campbell analyzed each prescription and compared it with contemporary standards and protocols.

Read the rest here.