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Ancient drugs for depression and heart disease unearthed in Turkey

Ian Harvey

The medicine of the 21st-century, although sometimes plant-derived, is largely the result of experienced scientists creating chemical magic in a laboratory.

However, what did our ancient ancestors do without the aid of recent technologies to cure their ails? A recent archaeological discovery in Istanbul, Turkey, has shed new light onto ancient medicine from about 1,400 years ago.

Lake Küçükçekmece is located in Istanbul Photo Credit

Lake Küçükçekmece is located in Istanbul Photo Credit

 

Researchers first unearthed the site at Bathonea on the shore of Kucukcekmece Lake in the Avcilar district of Istanbul in 2007 when a drought caused the lake’s waters to lower. Since 2013, experts have studied bottles, pestles, mortars, and other pieces that demonstrate the large scale of drug production in the region.

The 700 bottles, which is the highest number found in an archaeological excavation, contained ancient antidepressant and heart disease drugs. Along with the bottles, medical tools, spatulas, and a big cooker were unearthed. Most of the pieces were delivered to a nearby museum and the others were studied.

The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK) analyzed the contents of some of the ancient bottles. Methanone and phenanthrene, used to treat depression and heart disease, were found. According to the head of the Bathonea excavations, Sengul Aydingun, the basis of these drugs comes from nearby plants in the Bathonea region, Mail Online reported.

Additionally, the Bathonea location may provide evidence for a long-theorized historical attack on the region. Aydingun and other researchers located a large fire layer at Bathonea, which was carbon tested by the Wroclaw Archaeology and Ethnography Institute in Poland. The results confirm that the fire had occurred between 620 CE and 640 CE when Thrace attacked Istanbul.

There was also a major attack from the Avar Empire in 626 CE that destroyed structures in Istanbul, but the ancient medicines and equipment remained under the fire layer.

Antidepressant Photo Credit

Antidepressant Photo Credit

 

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Aydingun explained, “Historical documents mention this attack, but we have not found archaeological evidence. If there’re ever any clarification, the Bathonea excavations will be the first archaeological evidence for the Avar attacks”.