Researchers have found that ancient Egyptians mixed herbs into wines to create medicinal remedies.
Deep inside the tomb of Scorpion I, archaeochemist Patrick McGovern and colleagues found that 5,000-year-old wines were spiked with natural medicines, centuries before the practice was thought to exist in Egypt.
The experts found chemical residues of herbs, tree resins, and other natural substances inside wine jars from the tomb.
While the additives may have been flavorful, they were picked for their medical benefits, said McGovern, of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
The early Egyptians "were living in a world without modern synthetic medicines, and they were very aware of the benefits that natural additives can have, especially if dissolved into an alcoholic medium, like wine or beer," which breaks down plant alkaloids.
Papyrus records from as long ago as 1850 B.C. detail how such medicinal tipples were made to treat a range of ailments.
"Now this chemical evidence pushes that date back another 1,500 years," National Geographic News quoted McGovern, as saying.
Now, collaborating with researchers at Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center, McGovern's team is using biomolecular analysis to uncover the ancient wine-medicine recipes and hopefully put them to the test.
"We're trying to rediscover why ancient people thought these particular herbs were medically useful," he said, "and seeing if they are effective for the treatment of cancer or other modern diseases."
The study is to be published in journal PNAS.