Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ancient Tetracycline... Drink UP

A chemical analysis of the bones of ancient Nubians shows that they were regularly consuming tetracycline, most likely in their beer. --ScienceDaily
Sidenote: for some time I have been under the impression that there was (and presumably still is) a sub-population of humankind that is hyper-sensitive to various chemical elements in their environment. I mean by this that there are people who are both sensitive enough and observant enough that they can discern the beneficial (and one presumes harmful) aspects of herbs, vitamins and minerals that the rest of us wouldn't. And I'm thinking 'medicinal beer' might very well support this hypothesis.

In any case..., it was Armelagos, a bioarcheologist, who first discovered traces of tetracycline in ancient Nubian bones back in 1980.
Armelagos was part of a group of anthropologists that excavated the mummies in 1963. His original goal was to study osteoporosis in the Nubians, who lived between about 350 and 550 A.D. But while looking through a microscope at samples of the ancient bone under ultraviolet light, he saw what looked like tetracycline -- an antibiotic that was not officially patented in modern times until 1950. --DiscoveryNews

Armelagos and his team later traced the antibiotic source to beer, but then, of course, questions arose as to whether this was a natural occurrence and an accident ingestion or a purposeful creation.

Since there are no written records from that time period the question is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. However the process of production appears to be something like the following:

Grains that are stored underground can easily become moldy with Streptomyces contamination, though these bacteria would only produce small amounts of tetracycline on their own when left to sit or baked into bread. Only when people fermented the grain would tetracycline production explode. Nubians both ate the fermented grains as gruel and used it to make beer.

And ScienceDaily notes that:

The ancient Egyptians and Jordanians used beer to treat gum disease and other ailments, Armelagos says, adding that the complex art of fermenting antibiotics was probably widespread in ancient times, and handed down through generations.

So my vote, for the present, is that the Nubians were aware of what made them feel better, even if they were ignorant of the mechanism.


Discovery News

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