Wine as Medicine in Ancient Egypt Hot

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Egyptian Wine Jars, c. 1000 BCE

Egyptian Wine Jars, c. 1000 BCE
Photo © Rowan of Ravara

Wine has long been used as a base for medicine and for a number of very good reasons, including: it dissolves medicinal compounds better than plain water and keeps them suspended for a longer period of time, it preserves medicinal compounds, and of course the alcohol provides some anesthetic effects. Just how long has wine been used as a base for medicine, though?

No one knows for sure, but papyri dating to 1850 BCE show that the ancient Egyptians had recipes for wine mixed with herbs for treating aliments, but those recipes are sophisticated enough that they must have been products of an older history of development. Now, compelling evidence of wine mixed with herbs has been found in wine jars dating to 3150 BCE.

McGovern and his colleagues analyzed two ancient Egyptian wine jars. One of the jars dates from circa 3150 B.C. and was found in a tomb in Abydos in upper Egypt. The tomb belonged to one of the first pharaohs, Scorpion I. The other jar dates from between the fourth and sixth centuries A.D. and was found in the Gebel Adda site in southern Egypt. “We deliberately chose samples from an early and a late time point in ancient Egyptian culture,” McGovern says. ...

The Abydos jar contained wine mixed with coriander, mint, sage and pine tree resin, and the Gebel Adda jar had wine laced with pine resin and rosemary, the researchers suggest. Although these herb and wine combinations don’t feature in any of the recipes found so far, the new research provides the earliest evidence that herbs were dispensed in alcoholic beverages, the scientists say.

But the chemical compounds found in the residue could also be found in other plants. “It’s difficult to translate molecules back to a specific food,” Wendrich contends. “It’s not possible to make conclusions unless you found very specific markers for each herb.”

Source: Science News

It's worth keeping in mind that medicinal uses for wine are an important part of wine's cultural history. Unfortunately, the origins and development of this history has been largely lost to us in the mists of time. It's only been very recently, with the development of very sophisticated technology, that even the barest remnants of that history has become a little bit accessible. I'm hopeful that more tests and studies will reveal more information, but the sad fact is that so much has been irretrievably lost with no chance of rediscovery.

It's tempting to just be depressed about that and go have a glass of wine.

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