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Archaeological medicinal earths as antibacterial agents: the case of the Basel Lemnian sphragides

By
E. Photos-Jones
E. Photos-Jones
Analytical Services for Art and Archaeology (Ltd), Glasgow, UKArchaeology, School of Humanities, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
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C. Edwards
C. Edwards
School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK
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F. Häner
F. Häner
Museum for the History of Pharmacy of the University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland
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L. Lawton
L. Lawton
School of Pharmacy and Life Sciences, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK
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C. Keane
C. Keane
Department of Microbiology, Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow, UK
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A. Leanord
A. Leanord
Department of Microbiology, Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow, UK
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V. Perdikatsis
V. Perdikatsis
School of Minerals Resources Engineering, Technical University of Crete, Chania, Greece
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Published:
January 01, 2017

Abstract:

This paper presents the scientific investigation of three Lemnian sphragides (terra sigillata, stamped earth), a famed medicinal clay in antiquity, dated to the sixteenth–seventeenth centuries, and presently in the Museum for the History of Pharmacy, University of Basel. The three specimens are compared with clays from the purported locality of its extraction, at Kotsinas, NE Lemnos, Greece. The study suggests a local origin for the Basel samples; it also demonstrates, for the first time, that the three Lemnian sphragides have a significant antibacterial effect against Staphylococcus aureus, a common Gram-positive pathogen, but have no such effect against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a Gram-negative microorganism. Clay samples from the purported locality of extraction showed no antibacterial effect against S. aureus. Subsequent analysis with ultra-performance liquid-chromatography mass spectrometry (UPLC-MS) revealed the presence of organic constituents in one sphragis which were absent from a sample of modern clay. A fungal secondary metabolite is proposed here as the active ingredient but other factors may also play a role. The ongoing investigation into the bioactivity of some medicinal clays might aid in the re-evaluation of Belon’s statement included at the start of this paper, namely, that the Lemnian earth worked only because people in the past wished it to work.

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Contents

Geological Society, London, Special Publications

Geology and Medicine: Historical Connections

C.J. Duffin
C.J. Duffin
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C. Gardner-Thorpe
C. Gardner-Thorpe
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R. T. J. Moody
R. T. J. Moody
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Geological Society of London
Volume
452
ISBN electronic:
9781786203335
Publication date:
January 01, 2017

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