I came across an article about medicines and medicinal practices in ancient world that was a bit unexpected in Biblical Archaeology review (BAR). It is a good review article, short but informative, written by BAR Managing Web Editor Sarah Yeomans, who is also an archaeologist and historian. She starts with the Greek beliefs in gods of medicine and their use of secluded but beautiful sanctuaries called Asklepions. Various medicinal and surgical techniques used by the Greeks and Romans as well as their use of different natural substances for treatment have been summarised. Works of Arabic scholars and physicians also finds mention. The author then goes on to write about how archaeology has helped shed some light on the elaborate surgical practices, such as brain surgery, of ancient civilisations which were not believed to have reached such a level of sophistication. The funerary monuments and/or graves of ancient physicians and surgeons seem to yield lot more information, in form of the instruments used, about their expertise than any other source.
However, I was really surprised by the lack of any mention of two of the most prominent ancient medicinal personalities from India, Sushruta and Charak. Sushruta was a well-known and well-respected surgeon and teacher of Ayurveda from the Indian city of Kashi around the 6th century BC. He compiled the medical treatise Sushruta Samhita which contains multiple detailed references to diseases and medical procedures. Charaka, born c. 300 BC, was a physician and one of the principal contributors to the ancient art and science of Ayurveda, a system of medicine and lifestyle thought to be developed about 5000 years ago in Ancient India. He is said to be the first physician to present the concept of digestion, metabolism and immunity.
Besides this one (glaring) omission, the article by Sarah Yeomans is a very informative read for someone interested in knowing about the medicinal knowledge of the ancients. It also provides the references to the information given in it for those who are keen on pursuing the “knowledge hunt” further.