Saturday, January 12, 2013

World's #Oldest #Prescription

My pharmacy by booledozer

January 12

Pharmacist Day

Today is the day to honor the men and women who work in the pharmaceutical field. Pharmacists play an important role in our health care system. A pharmacist is highly trained in the chemical field. Anyone interested in becoming a pharmacist must go to college for a four-year pharmacy program which includes courses in chemistry, physics, biology, anatomy, and physiology. After completing that program the future pharmacist must attend graduate school for his or her PharmD, or doctorate of Pharmacy degree. The PharmD program can take anywhere from 2-4 years depending on if the student knows early enough in college that this is the career path they want. The program includes an residency period of 7-10 rotations, each lasting 4-6 weeks in length. The average salary for a pharmacist is $122,000 a year. The demand for this field is growing. 

World's Oldest Prescription

One of the main jobs for the pharmacist is to fulfill a patient's prescription. The oldest known prescription dates to 2400 BC. It comes from the ancient Sumerian city of Nippur. Nippur was located in present day Iraq. It was first briefly excavated by Sir Austen Henry Layard (March 5, 1817 –  July 5, 1894) in 1851. Between 1889 and 1890, the University of Pennsylvania conducted full scale excavations of Nippur under the leadership of John Punnett Peters, John Henry Haynes, and Hermann Volrath Hilprecht. Archaeological work on the site resumed for nineteen seasons between 1948-1990 by Oriental Institute of Chicago,  University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the American Schools of Oriental Research. The University of Pennsylvania holds all the clay tablets that were found at this site including the world's oldest prescription. You can read more about the Nippur excavations at

World's Oldest Prescription

The oldest prescription contains fifteen prescriptions written in Cuneiform. Cuneiform was used by speakers of 15 languages for over 3,000 years. You can learn more about cuneiform here.

Most of the Sumerian prescriptions call for the use of ingredients that are now obscure plants and potions. The prescriptions are split into three different groups; poultice, potion and complex group that includes poultices. The amounts of each ingredient is not specified on the tablet. A Sumerian physician was highly trained in the botanical, botany and zoological sciences of his time. His favorite ingredients included:

Mineral: sodium chloride (table salt), river bitumen, and vegetable oil
Animal: wool, mild, turtle shell, and water snake
Plant: thyme, mustard, plum tree, pears, figs, willow, fir pine 
Plant Products: beer, wine, and vegetable oil.

Here are just a few of the prescriptions that are written on the tablet taken from

Stated very simply, a poultice is a warm medicated dressing. The tablet first provides a list of simples to be utilized with each prescription. These are then pulverized and mixed with a liquid in order to form a paste. This is then fastened as a poultice to the 'sick' part of the body after it has been rubbed with oil. The rubbing with oil is done either for its intrinsic value or to keep the paste from clinging to the skin.

(1) Pulverize the branches of the thorn plant and seeds of the duashbur; pour diluted beer over it, rub with vegetable oil and fasten the paste over the sick spot as a poultice.

(2) Pulverize river mud, kneed with water, rub with crude oil, and fasten as a poultice.

(3) Pulverize the roots of the (?) tree and dried river bitumen; pour beer over it, rub with oil, fasten as a poultice.


(1) Pour strong beer over the resin of the (?) plant; heat over a fire; put this liquid in river bitumen oil, and let the sick person drink.

(2) Pulverize two simples and dissolve them in beer for the sick man to drink.

These prescriptions seem to be introduced by a difficult and enigmatic passage which reads, "arrange (?) the rushes over the hands and feet of the sick person. Following this, the operations consist primarily of washing the ailing organ with a specially prepared solution. This is followed immediately by the covering of the ailing organ with some substance that seems to include burnt ashes. In the next paragraph is described on the of four specific prescriptions.

"Sift and knead together, all in one, turtle-shell, the sprouting naga plant and mustard; wash the sick spot with quality beer and hot water; scrub the sick spot with all of the kneaded mixture; after scrubbing, rub with vegetable oil and cover with pulverized fir."

No comments:

Post a Comment