(Maria Dolan Smithsonian.com, May 07, 2012)
My original intention for this blog post , was to write about the medicinal aspect of archaeology and what exactly it entails and also how it affected society as a whole. However, I came across this intriguing article as I was searching through the Smithsonian’s website, and this clearly won my attention.
Since man has been around, there has always been ailments, injuries, and sickness to make life that much more challenging for us humans. Medicine has evolved in unimaginable ways since the beginning of humanity and continues to amaze us every day. As with all learning, mistakes must be made so that we can learn from them and expand our horizons. This includes the practice of using human remains as medicine.
References have been made throughout literature from the early modern European era, that humans were thought to have medicinal properties. From Shakespeare’s Othello to Donne’s Love’s Alchemy, the word “mummy” appears many times. This is not that surprising though, since it was common and socially acceptable that human remains were used as an ingredient for medicines at that time. So yes, they were cannibals!! Which,at the time, was seen as being the utmost savage. (little did they know)
This time period lasted from the Renaissance to the Victorian era, reaching its vertex in the 16th and 17th century. Who would use medicines containing human body parts? Apparently there was a wide range of people who believed in this “medicine”, which we now know would actually do the complete opposite of healing and would most likely lead to fatal diseases. Access to the current breakthroughs in medicine was a large privilege; therefore, the common consumers consisted of royalty, scientists, and priests. Most remedies included human bones, fat, blood, and other miscellaneous body parts. This new “fad” erupted a black market for human remains. Grave robbers were nonstop raiding tombs, and people would even steal mummies from Egyptian tombs to make remedies because it was believed that Egyptian mummies had the most valuable healing powers. Even King Charles II of England had his own concoction, he would drink alcohol infused with ground skull. If this wasn’t weird enough already, it was believed that the fresher it was the healthier. This especially pertained to blood, and people would pay the town executioner to receive a cup of fresh blood after an execution. They believed that by consuming the blood and other pieces of a corpse, they were also consuming the soul of the deceased and gaining their strength. Weird right? Leonardo Da Vinci even wrote about this topic.“We preserve our life with the death of others. In a dead thing insensate life remains which, when it is reunited with the stomachs of the living, regains sensitive and intellectual life.” This goes on and on, and even talks about how Romans drank the blood of slain gladiators to absorb their strength. If you were interested by this post, I highly suggest you check out the link below and read the whole thing.