Entry 202: The Slime of the Ancient Mariner

From the world of archaeology comes a fascinating health-related story: researchers digging in the ruins of Pompeii have discovered that being buried in lava and volcanic ash can be fatal.

Just kidding–they discovered that a long time ago.

No, the new discovery was from an ancient shipwreck off the coast of Tuscany, which I really should go check out in person for the sake of tax-deductible journalism and because my wife Barbara really wants to go to Tuscany.

Anyway, here’s what they found aboard this wreck, which dates from 140-130 B.C.:pills-found-ancient-shipwreck-RM-article[1]


According to the site everydayhealth.com, archaeologists uncovered “a tightly closed tin container,” inside of which were well-preserved green-gray pills. The article did not say whether the medicine had expired.

I have some questions about this: were people who lived in the B.C. years confused that each year was lower than its preceding year? On New Year’s Eve, did the ball in Times Square go up? Did some bright guy finally realize that they were counting down to something and start wondering what exactly they were counting down to? “Hey, folks, I don’t know what’s going to happen after the year 1, but we’d better be sure to have lots of canned goods stored somewhere.”

Anyway, back to the pills. They were immediately sent to a lab for analysis and were found to contain iron oxide, starch, beeswax, pine resin and a mixture of plant-and-animal-derived lipids (or fats), as well as carrot, radish, parsley, celery, wild onion and cabbage. One of the scientists who examined the pills, Alain Touwaide, scientific director of the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions in Washington, D.C., conjectures that the medicine may have been an eye wash used for dry eyes.

I’ll bet it was effective, too. The eyes of those ancient mariners would have teared up real fast when the doctor began pushing these pills into them. The practice may explain written histories of the era that described “sailors with blank expressions.”

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how, with all our medical advances, some things haven’t changed all that much? For instance, one medicine on the market today for dry eyes is Restasis®, which has side effects such as eye redness, discharge, watery eyes, eye pain, foreign body sensation, itching, stinging, and blurred vision. These are very much the same side effects you’d expect from grinding those ancient pills into your eyeball.

I kid, but discoveries such as this may have real value to us today.  Touwaide says it is evidence of the effectiveness of some natural medicines that have been used for literally thousands of years. “This information potentially represents essentially several centuries of clinical trials,” he explained.

And that explains why Touwaide works for the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions and not the Food and Drug Administration.

Of course, ancient medicine may reveal the secrets of all sorts of all-natural remedies which can be turned into extremely effective products that can be sold via e-mail to help people lose weight and have harder erections.

Now if those archaeologists can only let us know what sort of health insurance the ancients had.

In other shipwreck news, some recent storms in Scotland stirred up a WWII-era shipwreck and deposited chunks of barrel-shaped lard on a beach.* The barrels the lard had been in had long sinlard-woman[1]ce disintegrated, but the lard had retained the shape under a layer of barnacles.

Wait–that’s not even the disgusting part of the story.

A local official is quoted as saying, “Animals, including my dog, have certainly enjoyed the lard, and it still looks and smells good enough to have a fry-up with!”

Let me just say that my dog has consumed some gross things, including goose poop.  However I think I’d draw the line at 70-year-old barnacle-encrusted lard. But who knows– barnacle-encrusted lard may be a delicacy in a country known for a dish described as follows:

“savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours”

haggis-2_by_diewhiskybotschaft-de_[1]That makes 70-year-old barnacle-encrusted lard sound pretty good, doesn’t it? Speaking of which, that same haggis-eating local official goes on to say, “The depth of the swell during the storms we had over the holidays must have broke apart the shipwreck some more and caused the lard to escape.”

Yes, that’s right: runaway lard.

Protect your bacon.

See you soon.

*If you’re ever walking along a beach–especially in Great Britain evidently–and come man-and-dog-find-ambergris-1-510x600[1]across something that looks kind of like barnacle-encrusted lard but actually smells even worse that you imagine barnacle-encrusted lard would smell, pick it up and take it with you. It could be whale vomit such as was found recently by a man and his dog. The whale vomit they found is worth about $68,000 because it’s a very rare ingredient in–ugh–perfume. Go figure.

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2 Responses to Entry 202: The Slime of the Ancient Mariner

  1. Pingback: Entry 568: Worm Sperm | The Upsizers

  2. Pingback: Entry 643: More New Old Stuff | The Upsizers

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