Archaeological medicinal earths as antibacterial agents: the case of the Basel Lemnian sphragides.
Lawton, Linda A.
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PHOTOS-JONES, E., EDWARDS, C., HANER, F., LAWTON, L., KEAN, C., LEANORD, A. and PERDIKATSIS, V. 2017. Archaeological medicinal earths as antibacterial agents: the case of the Basel Lemnian sphragides. Geological society: special publications. Geology and medicine: historical connections [online], 452, pages 141-153. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1144/SP452.6
This paper presents the scientific investigation of three Lemnian sphragides (terra sigillata), a famed medicinal clay (earth) of antiquity, dated to the 16th-17th century, and presently in the collection of the Museum for the History of Pharmacy of the University of Basel. The three specimens are examined here against the backdrop of samples of sedimentary clays from the purported locality of its extraction, at Kotsinas, NE Lemnos, Greece. The study demonstrates, for the first time, that the three Lemnian sphragides displayed antibacterial properties against gram positive pathogens (staphelococcus aureus); the modern clays displayed none. Subsequent analysis with DPLC-MS of one of the three sphragides and one sample of clay revealed the presence of organic constituents in the sphragis which were absent from a sample of the modern clay. A fungal secondary metabolite is proposed here as the molecule responsible but other factors may have a role to play. The ongoing investigation for 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.