Evidence of Ancient Antibiotic Use Found

ATLANTA, Sept. 2 (UPI) — The making of antibiotics, officially dated to 1928 and the discovery of penicillin, was common practice more than 1,400 years ago, U.S. researchers say.

An Emory University anthropologist and a medicinal chemist say chemical analysis of the bones of ancient Nubians shows they regularly consumed tetracycline, most likely in beer, a university release said Wednesday.


Anthropologist George Armelagos and chemist Mark Nelson published their study in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Armelagos, a bioarcheologist and expert on prehistoric and ancient diets, said he discovered what appeared to be traces of tetracycline in human bones from Nubia, in present-day Sudan, dated between 350 and 550.

Armelagos tied the source of the antibiotic to the Nubian beer, made from grain that contained the soil bacteria streptomyces, which produces tetracycline.

Nelson did tests on the bones to extract the antibiotic and says he was stunned by the results.

“The bones of these ancient people were saturated with tetracycline, showing that they had been taking it for a long time,” he says. “I’m convinced that they had the science of fermentation under control and were purposely producing the drug.”

The ancient Egyptians and Jordanians used beer to treat gum disease and other illnesses, Armelagos says, and the complex art of fermenting antibiotics was probably widespread in ancient times and handed down through generations.

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