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Medical papyri show the effects of the Santorini eruption heavily influenced the development of ancient medicine

Siro I. Trevisanato, PhD


Exposure to ash from the catastrophic Santorini eruption radically changed Bronze Age medicine, triggering the development of new remedies, the wide dissemination of medical data, and the transfer of technologies. These developments were identified in medical papyri thanks to remedies for ailments linked to volcanic matter, an oddity in Egypt, a country without volcanoes. The anomaly was traced back to the Santorini eruption, which through volcanic ash, acidified bodies of waters, and acid rain affected the whole eastern Mediterranean without sparing Egypt. Using available technology, doctors developed new remedies for severe irritation to eyes from ash and for burns on the skin, or imported foreign remedies as exemplified by paragraph 28 of the London Medical Papyrus (L28), thus resorting to technology transfer even if so crude. Furthermore, medical manuals rather than being guarded by families of physicians were now used to disseminate remedies as widely as possible. Finally, besides providing historical data, the medical reaction to the Santorini eruption could still be of use today.The remedies could be integrated in manuals for emergency situations for population left without adequate medical infrastructure at a time of exposure to heavy volcanic fallout or acidified rain.


ancient medicine, burns, Ebers Papyrus, Edwin Smith Papyrus, Eshmun, London Medical Papyrus, medical papyri, paleobiology, Santorini eruption

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