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Archaeology & History

2,000-year-old Basel papyrus mystery solved

By T.K. Randall
July 16, 2018 · Comment icon 4 comments



The Roman physician Galen is thought to have written the text. Image Credit: CC BY 4.0 Wellcome Images
Researchers have finally succeeded in deciphering an ancient papyrus with mirror writing on both sides.
The text is one of 65 documents that make up the Basel Papyrus Collection which was originally acquired by the University of Basel in Switzerland over 100 years ago.

What makes this particular document so mysterious is the fact that it has mirror writing on both sides, making it extremely challenging to decipher without the benefits of modern technology.

It wasn't until the Basel Digital Humanities Lab was able to use ultraviolet and infrared imaging on the papyrus that it was revealed to consist of not one, but several layers glued together.
By carefully separating the sheets, it was possible to determine that the document is actually an ancient medical text that researchers believe was written by the famed Roman physician Galen.

"This is a sensational discovery," said Sabine Huebner, a professor of ancient history.

"The majority of papyri are documents such as letters, contracts and receipts. This is a literary text, however, and they are vastly more valuable."

"We can now say that it's a medical text from late antiquity that describes the phenomenon of 'hysterical apnea'."

Source: Heritage Daily | Comments (4)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by Ozfactor 5 years ago
Great article, I imagine that 2000 years ago those medical texts would have been invaluable . If you knew the secrets of life, good health and medicine you must have been very important , and maybe idolised ? Not so long ago, the 1980's, I can remember my Grandmother telling me that her doctor was never wrong , anything he said she believed. Now I not only question my doctor I also ask doctor google   
Comment icon #2 Posted by Grandpa Greenman 5 years ago
I always keep in mind, people 2000 years ago had short life spans. While much my be cleaned from it from it, but I doubt there are any miracle cures.  
Comment icon #3 Posted by jaylemurph 5 years ago
Not actually true. Infant mortality was significantly higher then, and that tends to skew how most people understand the data. If you made it to five years old, your life expectancy was pretty close to what it is now: https://www.livescience.com/10569-human-lifespans-constant-2-000-years.html --Jaylemurph
Comment icon #4 Posted by TripGun 5 years ago
Better get out the mustard and pepper as sneezing is the only effective cure for hysterical apnea as reported by the Roman vaginal times.


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