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Fossils as Drugs: pharmaceutical palaeontology

Fossils as Drugs: pharmaceutical palaeontology

Duffin, Christopher J.

Ferrantia, No.54 (2008)

Abstract

An extensive examination of classical, Anglo-Saxon, Mediaeval and Renaissance records shows that palaeontological material was used, sometimes alone and sometimes combined with a wide array of other geological and botanical ingredients, to try to treat a surprising diversity of ailments from at least the 1st century well into the 18th century. Lyncurium or Lapis Lincis, for example, was reputed to be formed from lynx urine. Variously identified as amber, tourmaline and hyacinth (zircon), extant specimens from 18th century pharmaceutical cabinets indicate that belemnite guards were prescribed as Lyncurium. Records show that it was used to treat a wide range of conditions, including scrofula, malaria, digestive, ocular and renal disorders. Lapides Judaici or Jew’s Stones are fossil cidaroid echinoid spines, often belonging to Balanocidaris, and were sucked or taken as a powder in cases of bladder stones and a number of related renal conditions. Bufonites or Toad Stones, believed to have been extracted from the heads of old toads, are actually fossil durophagous fish teeth, mostly belonging to the Jurassic semionotiform, Lepidotes. Employed in the treatment of a wide range of diseases, they were also set in rings and used as antivenin prophylactics. Amber has a long pedigree as a medicinal ingredient and was prescribed for ailments ranging from vertigo and cramp to gonorrhoea, mental illness and the plague. It was crushed and taken in tablets, distilled to yield Oil of Amber, and processed with Spirit of Wine to obtain Tincture of Amber. Fumes sublimated on the sides of the retorts gave rise to Salts of Amber. Inhaling the fumes released from burning amber was believed to be effective against respiratory problems and to ease childbirth.


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