Nippur Old Drugstore

By: L. L.

Originally Published in 1940

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HERB doctors, Medicine men, and Drugstore prescriptions, may now trace their origin to a respectable antiquity: a welcome piece of news to the Bulletin readers. Among the many clay tablets from Nippur preserved in the Museum collections, there is a remarkable document, inscribed in the cuneiform character, of early pre-Sargonic style – about 2600 B. C. – which roused considerable interest at a recent surgical convention held in Philadelphia. It would have proved just as interesting to Friend John Bartram, in his famous botanical garden on the bank of the Schuylkill, or to his London patron, Sir Hans Sloane, whose Chelsea Medical Garden and Herbarium were the cornerstone of the British Museum foundation.

The tablet 16 x 9.5 cm.- so long dormant in our drawers, is well preserved on the reverse. The obverse is unfortunately almost illegible except for a few lines. Photograph, transliteration and translation, as far as possible will help to realise the early use of drugs, prescriptions and the elaborate treatment of a burnt foot.

The drugs include various herbs, plants, seeds, flour, wheat, barley, cassia, balsam, salt, sesame and cedar oils, powdered woods, thorn root and twig, hot beer, water, etc., which it is prescribed to wash, pound, boil on fire, pour, sprinkle, plaster, anoint, clean- peel! – and mix with the water.

For the treatment of a burnt foot, strange things like a water snake, a cow’s teat, perhaps as an artificial skin are prescribed, also an ingenious dripping machine for washing the dust from the foot.

But the old text may speak for itself.

L. L.

Obverse and reverse of a cuneiform tablet
Museum Object Number: B14221

C. B. S. 14221.

[Obv. destroyed]

Ob: śim-si dé Balsam . . . is poured:
kaš ab-ta-dé A potion is poured out of it;
izi ù-ta-ab-dé pour it out of the fire;
a-bi iâ nig-LAG íd-da (:) (into) the liquid introduce
Rev: ù-tu oil from . . . the river (:)
lú al-nag-nag. The man shall drink it
* *
giš-ma + gunu babbar White maem> . . . wood,
e-rí-na ú(d)-nannar Twig (?) of Moon plant,
ìt-gaz pound:
kaš-e ù-tu introduce in the potion.
lú al-nag-nag The man shall drink it.
* *
numun níg-nagar-šar Seed of the “carpenter,, herb
šim-mar-ka-zi balsam mar-ka-zi,
ú ḫa-šu-an-um plant ḫa-sù of Anu,
ìt-gaz pound;
kaš-e ù-tu introduce in the potion.
l lú al-nag-nag The man shall drink it
* *
lú-ba-šu-gìr Unto the man, whose foot
ú-a-gil ab-dù-dù caught a burn, from
bar níg-KA + im-na things in the furnace,
nidaba-si-šar a full-barley herb,
mun salt,
pisan + ziz cassia,
ù-ḫal-la rush on;
úr-e ù-ra plaster on the leg;
kaš-sig ? fine barley beer;
a-izi ù-ni-tu ? pour in hot water;
dù-a-bi an-sud-bi on the whole stretch
ù-ni-sud anoint it;
ià-giš ù ià-erin sesame and cedar oil,
giš û-ku ašuhu wood,
ít-gaz pound; it shall be
an-tu-tu put over it
maš-a ù-laḫ ù-gaz A water snake, wash pound:
ú ama-maš-um-kas-šar a plant ama-maš-um-kas-šar
e-muš + muš-na giš-gír a root of thorn,
nidaba gaz crushed barley,
še gam-gam zi wheat (?) reduced to flour
Ku-s-ib Hu the herb of the kusipu bird
a ù-dé pour into water,
ù-izi boil on fire.
a-bi an-tu ?-tu-? the water is poured over,
a ù-ni-tu ? pour water on it.
ià-giš ù ià-erin sesame and cedar oil
šà-ki an-tu-tu on top shall be put
* *
ubur-bur šà-ga áb The milk teat of a cow,
ù-laḫ ù-gaz wash, pound;
ḫad giš-gír a thorn rod,
ù-mul polish (peel ?):
giš-ma + gunu babbar White ma . . . wood,
mun-íb with salt,
a ù-dé pour into water;
ù-izi boil on fire;
a-bi an-tu ?-tu-? the water is poured over.
a ù-ni-tu ? pour water on it.
izi ú-a-gil an-tu-tu on the fire-burn it is put.
* *
[ ]-dun (?) [ ] . . .
[ ]-bur giš-a-tu-gab- From a (tub ?) of sarbatu
Ta a-an-ta rá-a wood, water on high, moves
saḫar dug-gir-bi dirt of the foot jar.
Ku-šum-ma geštin Slashed stem of vine
ú níg-gíg azallu plant,
ú a-rí-na arína plant,
e-muš + muš ù giš root and stock,
izi an-tu-tu. are put in the fire.

Cite This Article

L., L.. "Nippur Old Drugstore." Museum Bulletin VIII, no. 1 (January, 1940): 25-27. Accessed July 25, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/bulletin/2163/


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