Scientists are trying to unravel the mystery of whether pills found in a 2,000-year-old shipwreck were, in fact, created and used as effective plant-based medicines.
And the bigger question: Could the ingredients of these ancient tablets still work to help with modern illnesses?
Around 130 B.C., a ship, identified as the Relitto del Pozzino, sank off Tuscany, Italy. Among the artifacts found on board in 1989 were glass cups, a pitcher and ceramics, all of which suggested that the ship was sailing from the eastern Mediterranean area.
Its cargo also included a chest that contained various items related to the medical profession: a copper bleeding cup and 136 boxwood vials and tin containers.
Inside one of the tin vessels, archaeologists found several circular tablets, many still completely dry.
“They were less than an inch in diameter and about a third to a half inch thick,” said Robert Fleischer, an evolutionary geneticist with the Smithsonian’s Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics in Washington, D.C.