Medieval cure-all may actually have spread disease | Science News


Medieval cure-all may actually have spread disease

1:35pm, March 30, 2004

From Philadelphia, at a meeting of the Association of American Geographers

One of medieval Europe's most popular concoctions for treating disease might instead have been an agent of germ transmission, new research suggests.

In the Middle Ages, merchants in apothecaries often dispensed mumia, or bitumen, a black, asphaltlike substance thought at the time to alleviate ailments as diverse as epilepsy, gout, and plague. When natural supplies of the oozing tar ran short, merchants turned to Egyptian mummies as a source of the material, says Barb'ra-Anne Carter of the California State University in Los Angeles. That's because the practitioners mistakenly believed that bitumen had been used to create the dark-skinned mummies, whose name derives from mumia, she notes.

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