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Scientists identify herbs in ancient Egyptian medicines

’Archaeochemistry’ is finding out if ingredients in ancient remedies were effective and scientists are seeing some promise.

One Egyptian clay jar, estimated to be more than 5,000 years old, yielded flaky residue that suggests a veritable apothecary of possible ingredients: coriander, senna, germander, balm and savory, among others. Samples scraped from the inside of a newer jar, just 1,500 years old, yielded compounds that likely came from rosemary.

The research, done in collaboration with a chemist from the U.S. Treasury Department, is more than a quest for history. Senior author Patrick McGovern, an “archaeochemist” at Penn’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, wants to know if the ancient herbalists came up with anything that really works.

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