Monday, April 2, 2012

Mummy medicine

If you haven't read much about ancient Egyptian mummies, you may be shocked to learn that in centuries past, they were ground up into a fine powder dispensed by pharmacists to be topically applied or orally ingested as a treatment for ailments as diverse as upset stomach, gout, and epilepsy. Mumia (or mummia) was 1st prepared in the 12th c., was in common use by the 15th c., and reached great popularity by the 17th c. "Mummy is become merchandise, Mizraim cures wounds, and Pharaoh is sold for balsams," wrote Sir Thomas Browne in 1841. Mummy powder was in such demand that the supply of ancient Egyptians slowed and contemporary corpses were substituted. Mumia was still available as recently as the early 20th c.

Fast forward to 2012, when scientists are again looking to mummy as a cure. They fear that our (over)use of antibiotics has ravaged our intestinal flora, which in turn has changed our metabolism, damaging our immune system and contributing to obesity. Cecil Lewis of the University of Oklahoma is comparing the bacteria in the poop of ancient mummies - who lived before the age of antibiotics - to our own gut bacteria so they can figure out what has changed. "My first hypothesis would be that chlorinated water and antibiotics fundamentally changed human microbiomes," says Dr. Lewis, who adds, "It's too early to tell if it's a good idea to repopulate our guts with bacteria. But it's certainly an important idea that requires investigation." And presumably a more sophisticated method than ingesting mumia...

1st image) An apothecary vessel inscribed "MUMIÆ" once contained powdered mummy and is now a specimen in the pharmacy collection of the Museums für Hamburgische Geschichte, 2nd image) Alisa Eagleston and Elizabeth Cornu, conservators from the San Francisco Fine Arts Museum, cover the 2,500-year-old mummy of an Egyptian man named "Irethorrou" after being scanned at the Stanford Medical Center.

No comments:

Post a Comment

You may add your comments here.