Physicians treated sore eyes with the same active ingredients as today in ancient Rome, researchers say.
The researchers found this by analysing pills found on the Relitto del Pozzino, a cargo ship wrecked off the Italian coast in around 140 BC.
Erika Ribechini from the University of Pisa in Italy [ Images ] said that these are the oldest medical tablets ever analysed to their knowledge, New Scientist reported.
According to her, the disc-shaped tablets, 4 centimetres across and a centimetre thick, were likely dipped in water and dabbed directly on the eyes.
The tablets were mainly made of the zinc carbonates hydrozincite and smithsonite, echoing the widespread use of zinc-based minerals in today's eye and skin medications.
Ribechini said that there is evidence that Pliny the Elder, the Roman physician, prescribed zinc compounds for these uses almost 250 years after the shipwreck in his seminal medical encyclopaedia, Naturalis Historia.
The tablets were also rich in plant and animal oils. Pollen grains from an olive tree suggests that olive oil was a key ingredient, just like it is today in many medical and beauty creams, says Ribechini.
The tablets were discovered in a sealed tin cylinder called a pyxis.
She added that since the findings of such ancient medicines are extremely rare, so preservation of the Pozzino tablets is a very lucky case.
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