A human skull dated to about 2,684 years ago with an “exceptionally preserved” human brain still inside of it was recently discovered in a waterlogged U.K. pit, according to a new Journal of Archaeological Science study.
The brain is the oldest known intact human brain from Europe and Asia, according to the authors, who also believe it’s one of the best-preserved ancient brains in the world.
“The early Iron Age skull belonged to a man, probably in his thirties,” lead author Sonia O’Connor told Discovery News. “Cause of death is rarely possible to determine in archaeological remains, but in this case, damage to the neck vertebrae is consistent with a hanging.”
The British Medical Journal tells the fascinating story of a Soviet surgeon who removed his own appendix in 1961, in the Antarctic wilderness without the assistance of medical professionals or hospital equipment.
Here is an excerpt from the diary of the doctor, Leonid Rogozov, written shortly after the auto-appendectomy:
I worked without gloves. It was hard to see. The mirror helps, but it also hinders—after all, it’s showing things backwards. I work mainly by touch. The bleeding is quite heavy, but I take my time—I try to work surely. Opening the peritoneum, I injured the blind gut and had to sew it up. Suddenly it flashed through my mind: there are more injuries here and I didn’t notice them . . . I grow weaker and weaker, my head starts to spin. Every 4-5 minutes I rest for 20-25 seconds. Finally, here it is, the cursed appendage! With horror I notice the dark stain at its base. That means just a day longer and it would have burst and . . .
At the worst moment of removing the appendix I flagged: my heart seized up and noticeably slowed; my hands felt like rubber. Well, I thought, it’s going to end badly. And all that was left was removing the appendix . . .
And then I realised that, basically, I was already saved.
- Soviet surgeon removes his own appendix in Antarctica, 1961 (thenextweb.com)
- DIY Appendix Removal (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com)
But the old apothecaries were more cautious with nutmeg than with other spices. The Salerno School decreed: “One nut is good for you, the second will do you harm, the third will kill you.” That isn’t strictly true but in large doses nutmeg can be intoxicating. Its oil contains myristicin: in large doses this acts as a deliriant, while causing palpitations, convulsions, nausea, dehydration and pain. It is fatal to a number of animals, including dogs.
The Dutch, who had time to get to know nutmeg, add it to most of their vegetable dishes. It is also popular in Quebec. The spice is popular in historical spheres of Moorish influence but not, oddly, in India.
In England, nutmegs are essential to the spiced foods of Christmas, to custard tarts and to the mealy, stodgy brood of national puddings. It has an affinity with cinnamon and can often take its place. It is lovely in mashed potato.
Of course, the spice is almost universally available today. Jars on supermarket shelves don’t begin to hint at its past. But the story of food can sometimes be the story of humanity, and nowhere does that seem more true than in the case of nutmeg, the headiest, most alluring, most blood-soaked of the spices.
- What is Nutmeg? (brainz.org)
Downtown Dayton, Tennessee, June 1925
In May 1925, Dayton civic leaders congregating at F.E. Robinson’s Drugstore decided to challenge a new state statute prohibiting the teaching of evolution. They also had another motivation to hold the trial in Dayton – to revive the town’s weak economy.
Directive from Washington, D.C., regarding treatment and procedures. September 26, 1918,
Naval Districts and Shore Establishments.
The Navy Department tried to prevent the spread of the influenza by educating sailors about protecting themselves. In Circular No. 1, the Navy’s Bureau of Sanitation suggests fresh air, adequate sleep, and fluids to stay healthy.
There is no shortage of snake oil in America. Whether sold by politicians as endless campaign promises, or by spammers tempting us with virility enhancers and other elixirs of life, we are all too familiar with snake oil and its salesmen.
What America needs is a good, honest BALM . And I have just the thing—a little something for most anything that ails you—in our patent medicine collection at the National Museum of American History. Currently we have over 600 remedies available (for browsing only!) on our Web site Balm of America: Patent Medicine Collection. Here you will find humor (probably unintentional), snake oil salesmanship, and quackery, but also “regular medicine”: common remedies used to alleviate symptoms and pain.
I have spent a lot of time digging up bits and pieces of the stories behind these products and the people who made them. It can be fun and frustrating; while some products are well known, others have come and gone, leaving few traces. Here are some facts and speculation about two such products:
Balm of America
Balm of America was a cough and cold remedy offered by the Boston apothecary, Thomas Hollis, in the mid-nineteenth century. The name, suggesting a cure for all the ills of our nation, seemed a perfect fit for our site’s title.
To add to the product’s allure, the name also suggests that most-famous-of-all-balms, the “Balm of Gilead,” a substance highly valued for its medicinal value since antiquity. [“Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?” Jeremiah 8:22]
Was Hollis selling snake-oil? His establishment in Boston was one of the oldest (est. 1821) and most widely respected, and his other proprietary mixtures generally had rather simple, prosaic names: Hollis’s Lozenges, Pectoral Syrup, Horse Liniment, Syrup of Sarsaparilla, etc.
Then I came across this: Populus candicans is called Balm of Gilead in America . The buds of this common tree, also known as balsam poplar, exude a resin that is used medicinally, especially for coughs and pulmonary complaints.
Perhaps Hollis’ cough cure referred simply to this native species, the “Balm of Gilead” in America. Many local folk remedies found their way into mainstream medicine and became widely distributed. Maybe this was Hollis’ “Valuable Discovery.” In Appalachian folk medicine, Balm of Gilead Buds were known as “Bam Gilly Buds,” and they are widely available today in many herbal remedies .
Of course this is pure speculation on my part. No government regulation existed to require Hollis to reveal the ingredients in his preparations, so his formula remains a mystery.
White Eagle’s Indian Oil Liniment
Sixty years later, the proprietors of White Eagle’s Indian Oil Linimentwere not as free of government oversight.
I found the liniment listed in the American Medical Association’s 1921Nostrums and Quackery section on “Misbranded Drugs and Foods: Convictions Under the Food and Drugs Act Government chemists found no rattlesnake oil in the liniment (mostly kerosene), and the claim that it would cure diphtheria, hay-fever, goiter, deafness and rheumatism was declared false and fraudulent. The proprietors of the White Eagle Medicine Company of Piqua, Ohio were Aaron P. and Caroline McCarty. They changed the name and label on their product, paid the fine of $25 each, and were back in business.
I was able to learn more about Aaron P. McCarty through his famous son, heavy weight champion of 1913, Luther McCarty. Luther died tragically in the ring, on May 24, 1913, killed by a blow from opponent Arthur Pelkey. News articles following the death revealed more about the father: A. [Aaron or Anton] P. McCarty traveled about the country under the name of Chief White Eagle selling his rattlesnake oil. Although he was widely believed to have Indian blood, he admitted that he was of Scotch-Irish descent.
Worthy balms or worthless nostrums? Honest apothecaries or snake oil salesmen? Take a look at our collection and let us know what you know about these products and their proprietors.
|Medieval Medicine Western medicine advanced very little in Europe during the Middle Ages. Scholarship fell into the religious sphere, and clerics were more interested in curing the soul than the body. Many theologians considered disease and injury to be the result of supernatural intervention and insisted that cures were only possible through prayer. No new medical research was conducted, and no new practices were created. Physicians simply perpetuated the church-approved classical techniques developed by Galen and others that were preserved in ornately decorated, hand-copied texts produced by monks. Christian concern for the ill and injured, as well as contact with the Arab world during the crusades, did, however, lead to the creation of many large hospitals built and run by monastic orders. Although little was done to cure the patients, they were usually well fed and comforted by a religious nursing staff.
Although medicine and surgery were related, medieval practitioners drew a distinct line between them. Generally, physicians treated problems inside the body, and surgeons dealt with wounds, fractures, dislocations, urinary problems, amputations, skin diseases, and syphilis. They also bled patients when directed by physicians. Many of today’s surgeons can trace the origins of their specialties to the teeth-pullers, bone-setters, oculists, and midwives of the middle ages.