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« Reply #45 on: April 13, 2009, 01:35:44 pm »

                                    Take This Medicine: The Story of the Sign 'Rx' 

                               How a special sign came to mean a doctor’s prescription.

Transcript of radio broadcast:
Voice Of America
21 March 2009

Editor's Note attached

Now, the VOA Special English program, WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.

Every week at this time, the Voice of America tells about popular words and expressions used in the United States.  Some of these words and expressions are old. Some are new.  Together, they form the living speech of the American people.

Our story today is very old. It goes back about five-thousand years. It is about a sign that is used to represent some words. 

We see this sign on drug stores and whenever we visit a doctor to get an order for medicine. It also appears on bottles of pills and other medicines.

The sign is formed by a line across the right foot of the letter "R." It represents the word "prescription." It has come to mean "take this medicine."

The sign has its beginnings five thousand years ago in Egypt. At that time, people prayed to Horus, the god of the Sun. It was said that when Horus was a child, he was attacked by Seth, the demon of evil.

The evil Seth put out the eye of the young Horus. The mother of Horus called for help. Her cry was answered by Thoth, the god of learning and magic. Thoth, with his wisdom and special powers, healed the eye of Horus. And the child was able to see again.

The ancient Egyptians used a drawing of the eye of Horus as a magic sign to protect themselves from disease, suffering and evil.  They cut this sign in the stones they used for buildings. And it was painted on the papyrus rolls used for writing about medicine and doctors.

For thousands of years, the eye of Horus remained as a sign of the god's help to the suffering and sick.

Long after the fall of the ancient Egyptian civilization, doctors and alchemists in Europe continued the custom of showing a sign of the gods' help and protection. But over the years, the sign changed from the eye of Horus to the sign for Jupiter, the chief god of the Romans. Jupiter's sign looked much like the printed number "four."

That sign changed, also. Today, it is the easily-recognized capital "R" with a line across its foot.

The sign no longer offers heavenly assistance to the sick. It now means "take this medicine."

This VOA Special English program
was written by
Frank Beardsley.

The narrator was
Maurice Joyce.                                   


Editor's Note: This program was first broadcast many years ago. A comment posted below points out that there are two stories of where the term Rx may have come from. explains it this way:

The symbol "Rx" is usually said to stand for the Latin word "recipe" meaning "to take." It is customarily part of the superscription (heading) of a prescription.

Another explanation for the origin of Rx is that it was derived from the astrological sign for Jupiter which was once placed on prescriptions to invoke that god's blessing on the drug to help the patient recover.
« Last Edit: April 13, 2009, 01:46:08 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #46 on: April 22, 2009, 10:35:14 pm »

This undated photo provided by University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology courtesy of the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo shows the inside of a wine vessel sherd that was buried with one of ancient Egypt's first rulers, Scorpion I, is shown.

Herbs have been detected in wine from the tomb many centuries before the civilization's known use of herbal remedies in alcoholic beverages, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

(AP Photo/Courtesy of
German Archaeological Institute in Cairo)
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« Reply #47 on: April 22, 2009, 10:36:46 pm »

                                        Herbal wine, just the thing for ailing pharoahs

Mon Apr 13, 2009

– When great-grandma took a nip of the elderberry wine "for medicinal purposes," she was following a tradition that goes back thousands of years.

Indeed, researchers say they have found evidence that the Egyptians spiked their wine with medicinal herbs as long as 5,000 years ago.

A chemical analysis of pottery dating to 3150 B.C. shows that herbs and resins were added to grape wine, researchers led by Patrick E. McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology report in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Adding tree resin to wine to prevent disease was widely known in ancient times, also being reported in ancient China, and continuing into the Middle Ages, the researchers say.

And they note that Egyptian records report that a variety of herbs were mixed in wine, beer and other liquids for medical uses.

Chemicals recovered from the pottery indicate that in addition to wine there were savory, blue tansy and artemisia — a member of the wormwood family — present. Other chemicals indicate the possible presence of balm, senna, coriander, germander, mint, sage and thyme.


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« Reply #48 on: April 22, 2009, 10:39:35 pm »

                                              Pharoah's Wine Jar Yields Medicinal Secrets

                        Egyptians may have been using herb-spiked drink for healing 5,000 years ago

MONDAY, April 13, 2009
(HealthDay News)

-- The old adage, "take a glass of wine for thy stomach's sake,"

may have been heeded more than 5,000 years ago in ancient Egypt, archaeologists report.

Sophisticated analysis of residues found in wine jars left in the tomb of Scorpion 1, perhaps the first pharaoh, shows that the wine had been steeped in herbs including balm, coriander, mint and sage, according to a report published in this week's issue April 13 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

That tomb dates back to 3150 B.C., explained lead researcher Patrick E. McGovern, a senior research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology.

"This is the earliest evidence we have of herbs being added to wine," McGovern said. "The earliest previous evidence we had was an alcoholic beverage from China from around 1200 B.C. That one had possibly wormwood or chrysanthemum in it, or a tree resin."

There is no solid proof that the herbs were added for medicinal purposes, but the evidence points in that direction, McGovern said. "It could have been for flavoring, but we have a later literary tradition in Egypt of herbs added for medicinal purposes," he said. "It gets recorded in a medical papyrus in 1800 B.C., and now this goes back more than a thousand years earlier."

McGovern has been working on material from the tomb for many years. Scorpion 1 was entombed in Abydos, then the religious capitol of Egypt, about 150 miles south of Cairo.

"His tomb is one of the most spectacular from the earliest period," McGovern said. "It contained about 700 wines jars as well as food and clothing."

McGovern had done previous analyses of the same wine jar. The new report was based on highly sophisticated studies of residues in the jar, using techniques such as liquid chromatography mass spectrometry and solid phase microextraction. The initial analysis showed the presence of tartaric acid, and the latest analysis found residues of herbs.

The tradition of adding herbs to wine seems to have continued throughout early Egyptian history. A more recent wine jar, found in southern Egypt and traced to the 4th to 6th centuries A.D., was also laced with pine resin and rosemary, the researchers noted.

Medicinal use of wine could be expected because of the well-established practice of medicine in ancient Egypt. A 2005 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City was devoted entirely to medical practice in Egypt's Middle Kingdom, which flourished about 1900 B.C. The exhibit centered on ancient papyrus documents with instructions to physicians on wound healing, pain relief, and even the treatment of gynecologic or dental problems.

One expert was impressed with the new wine jar analysis.

"McGovern and co-workers have an amazing analytical accomplishment here," said Andrew L. Waterhouse, chair of the department of viticulture and enology (the study of wines) at the University of California, Davis. "These results further show that simple wine, as we know it, may not have been the most common beverage, but it was more often amended in many ways," he said.

Still, "it is difficult to know why the herbs were added," said Waterhouse, one of the world's leading authorities on ancient wines. "For medicinal purposes? To enhance the flavor? To cover up defects? All are possible."

More information

For more on wine and health, head to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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« Reply #49 on: April 22, 2009, 10:41:32 pm »

                                           Study: Herbs added to 5,100-year-old Egyptian wine

The Associated Press
April 13, 2009

- Herbs have been detected in wine from the tomb of one of ancient Egypt's first rulers, many centuries before the civilization's known use of herbal remedies in alcoholic beverages, according to a study published Monday.

The findings from a wine jar dated to 5100 B.C. provide concrete evidence of ancient Egyptian organic medicine, which had only been ambiguously referred to in later papyrus documents, said Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, one of the researchers.

Tests on one of 700 jars buried with Scorpion I in his tomb at Abydos about 3100 B.C. confirmed that the vessel contained wine, according to the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The tests also detected tree resin, which was used as a preservative and for medical purposes, and other chemicals that make up various herbs.

"There were a lot of additives in this wine, and it fits very well with the later Egyptian pharmacology texts, the medical papyri that describe similar kinds of alcoholic beverages with herbs in them," McGovern said.

"So the assumption is that, although we're 1500 years before the earliest medical papyrus, in fact we're looking at medicinal wine," he said.

Medical papyri, texts which describe ancient Egyptian medical procedures and practices, show that resins and herbs were added to wine, beer and water for use as pain relievers, laxatives, diuretics, or aphrodisiacs. Many of the ingredients are still part of the herbal medical tradition of the country, researchers said.

Herbs from the eastern Mediterranean that fit the chemicals found in the wine are coriander, balm, mint, sage, senna, germander, savory and thyme, McGovern said.

The researchers cannot positively identify herb or herb combinations found because unique biomarkers for them have not been identified. And although prescriptions recorded on papyrus give a detailed picture of the ancient Egyptian drug cabinet, more than 80 percent of the 160 plant names listed have yet to be translated.

"Our contention is that plant additives, including various herbs and tree resins, were already being dispensed via alcoholic beverages millennia earlier" than temple inscriptions had indicated, the paper concludes.

Robert K. Ritner, Professor of Egyptology at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, said Friday herbs and spices were also added for taste as well as health.

"I would not limit it specifically to medicinal uses; it certainly could have that, but there's no reason these wouldn't be spiced for flavor, like modern mulled wine," Ritner said.

McGovern said medical benefits of herbal wines seemed the most likely explanation. "You can't exclude the taste side of it, but we're at a time when people need to have some way to protect themselves from disease, cure themselves, and this was the primary way it was done," he said
« Last Edit: April 22, 2009, 10:43:28 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #50 on: April 22, 2009, 10:43:49 pm »


The Real Scorpion King

During an archaeological expedition in the late 1890’s, a ceremonial macehead was found depicting a king known as “Scorpion”. It comes from a time before the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, and shows the king wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt. The macehead had been decorated on all sides, but most has been badly damaged and is hard to read.

King Scorpion is shown holding a hoe, which may depict him preparing the fields or breaking away the dams in order to flood the fields. Not much is known about this king, and much speculation surrounds it.

One thing is certain, the real Scorpion King wasn’t half man and half arachnid, and he wasn’t a muscle bound professional wrestler.

He was a real king of Egypt.
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« Reply #51 on: April 22, 2009, 10:46:32 pm »

                                                         Age-old remedies

                           Penn scientists are using chemistry to learn the identity of herbs

                       the ancient Egyptians mixed with wine to make sought-after medicines.

By Tom Avril
Philadelphia Inquirer
Staff Writer
April 20, 2009

Ancient Egypt was renowned for its prowess in the field of medicine, so much so that sick people
went there from abroad in search of herbal remedies.

Archaeologists know that the herbs were administered in a potent blend with wine. But the identity
of many of those medicinal additives is a mystery - their names recorded in hieroglyphics that have resisted modern efforts at translation.

Now, two University of Pennsylvania scientists have begun to crack the puzzle with chemistry.

In research published last week, the pair reported some of the earliest evidence of just what those
long-ago physicians were prescribing.

One Egyptian clay jar, estimated to be more than 5,000 years old, yielded flaky residue that suggests
a veritable apothecary of possible ingredients: coriander, senna, germander, balm, and savory, among others. Samples scraped from the inside of a newer jar, just 1,500 years old, yielded compounds that likely came from rosemary.

The research, done in collaboration with a chemist from the U.S. Treasury Department, is more than
a quest for history. Senior author Patrick McGovern, an "archaeochemist" at Penn's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, wants to know if the ancient herbalists came up with anything that really works.

Researchers at Penn's Abramson Cancer Center are similarly intrigued, and already are studying herbs identified in some of McGovern's previous experiments. A derivative of the wormwood plant, found in
a 3,200-year-old fermented beverage from China, has shown some promise against tumor cells in preliminary lab studies.

"I think people should be open-minded" about ancient remedies, said Wafik S. El-Deiry, a Penn professor of medicine, genetics, and pharmacology, "because there may be hidden treasures."

The Egyptians and Chinese of old weren't trying to use their herbs against cancer, as far as McGovern knows. But some of their medicines are used today for the same purposes as long ago.

One such example is fennel, to combat indigestion, said Lise Manniche, an assistant professor of Egyptology at the University of Copenhagen. The Penn study found no evidence of fennel, but it is among those plants whose names have been translated from the ancient texts.

Manniche said the new evidence, published in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, represented an ideal marriage of chemistry and archaeology.

"It's absolutely fascinating that such a small amount [of residue] can give us so much information,"
said Manniche, who was not involved with the study.

Both clay jars came from Egyptian tombs. The 1,500-year-old vessel is owned by the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto; the one that dated back five millennia was excavated by German archaeologists from the tomb of ruler Scorpion I.

In both cases, the wine residue was scraped from the jars and simply sent to McGovern by mail.

The chemist can't say exactly which herbs were used in the wine. The analysis of the older jar
revealed only that the residue contained certain "terpenoid compounds" - the presence of which
could be explained by one or more herbs.

It is also unclear which diseases they might have been used for.

Egyptian physicians recorded diseases and their treatments in hieroglyphics on papyrus documents
that have survived to this day. But with many of the remedies, modern scholars know only that they consisted of some sort of plant - signified by a picture of a leaf at the end of the name, Manniche said.

McGovern's coauthors were Penn research associate Gretchen Hall and Armen Mirzoian, a senior chemist at the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Mirzoian's usual work involves testing modern alcoholic beverages for contaminants or labeling problems. The analysis of the ancient wine residue was performed with mass spectrometers and other equipment at the bureau's facility in Maryland.

Hall, formerly a chemist at Mobil Oil, jokes that her part-time work at Penn's museum beats retirement.

"It's better than going to the gym, or knitting," she said.

McGovern, by the way, is hoping his own retirement does not come soon. Late last year, the museum said it planned to cut up to 18 jobs, including his, citing financial woes. Last week, his situation was
still up in the air.

In addition to looking at ancient herbs for their medicinal value, McGovern has studied them for their taste.

He has shared his findings with Dogfish Head brewery in Delaware, working with it to reproduce certain beverages of old. One of the biggest hits with customers has been Midas Touch, a mixture of grape wine, barley beer, and honey mead. The recipe is based on analysis of vessels from the reputed tomb
of King Midas, ruler of the Phrygians.

Though the evidence from Midas and from the Egyptians comes from tombs, Manniche and McGovern said it's pretty clear that these beverages were consumed by the living.

"What was good in life was definitely good in death," McGovern said.

And, he hopes, good for life thousands of years later.



Contact staff writer

Tom Avril

at 215-854-2430 or
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