Confirmed: Anticancer Activity from Select Herbal Additives Found in Ancient Alcoholic Beverages
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Penn Museum and Penn Medicine Research Collaboration Yields First Promising Evidence For Efficacy of Medicinal Compounds Once Employed by Our Ancestors
The following three images were taken at the Abramson Cancer Center laboratory, part of the University of Pennsylvania Health System:
Team of researchers involved in the Archaeological Oncology ("Digging for Drug Discovery") Project, from left to right: Patrick E. McGovern, archaeochemist and ancient alcohol expert and head of the University of Pennsylvania Museum's Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory; Melpo Christofidou-Solomidou, Research Associate Professor at the Pulmonary Allergy and Critical Care Division of the Department of Medicine, and an Abramson Cancer Center Investigator; and Floyd Dukes, Research Specialist, Christofidou-Lab.
Patrick McGovern and Melpo Christofidou-Solomidou examine a sherd from Jiahu (China), which provided evidence for the earliest alcoholic beverage in the world to date--ca. 7000 B.C. The compounds included potential medicinal additives.
Patrick McGovern observes as Melpo Christofidou-Solomidou demonstrates the colorimetric assay of compounds with anti-cancer effects. The compounds were identified in ancient fermented beverages using Biomolecular Archaeological techniques.
The following images feature artifacts/ancient Egyptian sites where residues from ancient herbal wines were tested by Dr. McGovern for medicinal properties, reported upon in the April 2009 edition of PNAS (106:18: 7361-7366).
Amphora containing wine residues laced with rosemary and pine resin, from tomb 217 of cemetery 4 at Gebel Adda (Egypt), dated to early Byzantine times (4th-early 6th c. AD). Ht. 67.3 cm. With permission of the Royal Ontario Museum © ROM; photograph courtesy of W. Pratt (museum no. 973.24.1217).
The inside of this wine vessel sherd contains a yellowish residue, the accumulation of organic materials from the upper surface of the wine that once filled the inside of jar no. 50 from the tomb (U-j) of Scorpion I at Abydos (Egypt), ca. 3150 B.C. (Hartung 2001: cat. no.156, pls. 58:and 94:156). The residue, forming a circle around the vessel's interior, is slanted off from the horizontal because the jar with its liquid was tilted in antiquity. Analyses showed that herbs including balm, coriander, mint, sage and many more were steeped in the wine, to which pine resin and fig were also added. Ht. of sherd 33.5 cm. Photo courtesy of German Archaeological Institute in Cairo.
A "wine cellar for eternity": Peering down at some of 700 wine jars buried with Scorpion I, one of the first kings of Egypt, in his tomb (U-j ) at Abydos, about 3150 BC. The wine, laced with pine resin, figs and herbs (including balm, coriander, mint, sage and many more), was a true medicinal elixir for the afterlife. (Photograph courtesy of German Institute of Archaeology, Cairo.)
Scorpion I's tomb at Abydos, showing one of the chambers filled with wine jars before excavation. (Photograph courtesy of German Institute of Archaeology, Cairo.)
A selection of wine jars from Scorpion I's tomb at Abydos, laid out on the desert sand. (Photograph courtesy of German Institute of Archaeology, Cairo.)
The following images come from Chinese excavations at Jiahu and Changzikou (Luyi county, Henan province). Dr. McGovern tested the contents of the Changzikou lidded jar, dated ca. 1050 B.C., and discovered a rice wine containing a range of medicinal compounds from Artemisia annua (wormwood), Artemisia annua (mugwort), China fir tree resin (Cunninghamia lanceolate (Lamb.), and/or a flower in the chrysanthemum family. The residues from the much older early Neolithic Jiahu jars have not yet been tested for any botanical additives, but represent the earliest alcoholic beverage yet discovered from anywhere in the world. It was a mixed beverage made from rice, hawthorn fruit and/or grape, and honey.,
Typical jars with high flaring necks and rims, which were well-suited for serving a fermented beverage. From Jiahu, Henan province, China, ca. 7000-6600 B.C. Dr. Patrick E. McGovern and his colleagues analyzed similar jar sherds and discovered that they contained a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey, and fruit (hawthorn fruit and/or grape). Photograph courtesy of Juzhong Zhang and Zhiqing Zhang, Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Henan Province, Zhengzhou, China.
Typical Neolithic burial, with pottery vessels containing a mixed fermented beverage, at Jiahu, Henan province, China, ca. 7000-6600 B.C. Photograph courtesy of Juzhong Zhang and Zhiqing Zhang, Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Henan Province, Zhengzhou, China.
Overview of Jiahu cemetery, showing individual burials associated with pottery and other grave goods. Photograph courtesy of Juzhong Zhang and Zhiqing Zhang, Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Henan Province, Zhengzhou, China.
This lidded wine jar (Chinese you) was one of more than 90 bronze vessels associated with an elite burial in the Changzikou Tomb (Luyi county, Henan province). 52 lidded examples, including this one, were still a quarter- to half-full of liquid when the tomb was opened. Chemical analysis by Eric D. Butrym of Firmenich Corp. revealed that two aromatic compounds - camphor and alpha-cedrene - were present in the liquid, in addition to benzaldehyde, acetic acid, and short-chain alcohols characteristic of rice wine. Isotopic analysis by Michael P. Richards of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology confirmed that the beverage was most likely rice-based. A single open vat, filled with leaves of Osmanthus fragrans and holding a ladle, was also found in the tomb. Possibly, the fermented beverage in the lidded containers of the tomb was steeped in the leaves, which have a floral aroma like the flowers that are used today in flavoring teas and beverages, and then transferred to the vessels. The rice wine in the vessel would have been made by saccharifying the grain sugars with molds, a uniquely Chinese contribution to fermented beverage-making. Photograph courtesy of Zhiqing Zhang, Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Henan Province, Zhengzhou, China.