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In antiquity, therapeutic empiricism attributed medicinal properties to animal products, plants, minerals and metals, including the soil of specific geographical locations.

The therapeutic use of certain earths and metals is thoroughly documented in the works of Hippocrates, Dioscorides and Galen and was still practised in the eighteenth century by eminent physicians such as Sir Hans Sloane. Mercury and arsenical compounds have also been widely used since antiquity, the latter finding application in our times in the successful treatment of acute promyelocytic leukaemia.

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