History also records how mankind possessed a medical
knowledge not previously suspected. An excavation of mummies from the Valley of
the Kings in Egypt (left) found that many of the jaws of the mummies had
bridges and artificial teeth (14). Similarly Mayan skulls dug up on the coast of Jaina in Campeche, Mexico also show crowns and fillings in place (15).
artifacts discoveries have also shown that Pre-Inca surgeons
performed operations on the brain 2,500 years ago. Trepanation is a fairly
recent development in modern medicine, yet thousands of skulls in Peru show
marks of such successful surgery. When the same operations were attempted at the
Hotel Dieu in Paris in 1786, the operations were invariably fatal. Medical
knowledge was widespread in our ancient times. Sushruta (5th Century
BCE) listed the diagnosis of 1120 diseases. He described 121 surgical
instruments and was the first to experiment with plastic surgery (16).
The Sactya Grantham, a Brahmin book compiled about 1500
BCE contains the following passage describing the giving of a smallpox
vaccination. "Take on the tip of a knife the contents of the inflammation,
inject it into the arm of a man, mixing it with his blood. A fever will follow
but the malady will pass very easily and will create no complications. (17)"
Modern history, however, claims that Edward Jenner (1749-1823) discovered the
practise of vaccination. There are also hints of more intriguing medical advancements.
The Chinese Emperor Tsin-Shi (259-210 BCE) reportedly owned a ‘magic
mirror’ which could illuminate the bones of the body. When a patient stood
before this rectangular mirror which measured 1.76 by 1.22 metres in size, the
image appeared reversed but all the organs and bones were visible – an apparent
reference to an x-ray machine. The ‘magic mirror’ itself was reportedly used to
diagnose disease (18).
In fact the Chinese appear particularly knowledgeable when it
comes to medicine. A Chinese surgeon, Hua T’o carried out operations under
anaesthetic over 1800 years ago. The chronicle of Hou Hou Shu of the later Han
Dynasty (25-220 AD) reports as follows; "He first made the patient swallow
hemp-bubble-powder mixed with wine, and as soon as intoxication and
unconsciousness supervened, he made an incision in the belly or the back and cut
out any morbid growth. If the stomach or
intestine was the part affected, he thoroughly cleansed these organs after the
use of the knife, and removed the contaminating matter that had caused the
infection. He would then stitch up the wound, and apply a marvellous ointment
which caused it to heal in four or five days, and within a month the patient was
completely restored to health (19)."
Of one of the most puzzling
Chinese artifacts suggesting lost
knowledge came to light in China on 1st December 1993 when a workman's spade
broke through the roof of a long buried and forgotten tomb. Work was being
undertaken to build a sports field for the Jingyi Middle school of Yix-ing City
in the Jiang-su Province of China at the time. The police were called in and
recognising the find as a tomb, called in the Huadong Historical Relics Working
Team who conducted a full-scale investigation. The tomb was later identified as
the burial site of a famous general of the Chin dynasty, Chou Chou who lived
from 265-316 AD.
In the tomb were found pieces of pottery, porcelain, scraps of
gold and a metal belt fastener. The fastener was examined by the Institute of
Applied Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and by the Dunbai
Polytechnic. Their analysis showed that the metal of the fastener was an alloy
of 5% manganese, 10% copper - and 85% aluminium. The mystery here being
that aluminium was not supposed to have been discovered until 1803 and had
certainly not been produced successfully in pure form until 1854. Even today,
the process of extracting aluminium from bauxite is complicated and involves the
use of a Reverbier oven, a refraction chamber and regenerator as well as
electrolysis and temperatures exceeding 950° Celsius.
The mystery Chinese artifact became known as the Nanjiig
Belt and sparked off a wave of controversy, which came to an initial end
with the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. However by that time, western
scientists had obtained data on the belt, notably Dr. J. Needham of Cambridge
University, author of ‘Science and Civilisation in China.’ Other
researchers followed his lead and in December 1986 a report entitled
‘Aluminium Objects from a Jin Dynasty Tomb - Can They Be Authentic?’ was
published by scientists at the Chemistry Department of the University of St.
By this time stories
were beginning to circulate that the belt had been dropped more recently by
robbers. The scientists at St. Andrews, however, dismissed this; "It is
difficult to see why they should have left the silver objects in place and
carefully inserted pieces of aluminium for the confusion of future excavators. A
tomb robber is scarcely likely to have scraps of kitchen utensils about his
person and to have discarded them accidentally. It would also need a miraculous
breeze to the replace the dust." (20)
dismissing the grave robber theory, they introduced their own hypothesis, as
they could not account for aluminium being in existence nearly 1500 years ago.
"We are led to suggest," they concluded, "that the aluminium was introduced at
an academic prank by a participant who was probably greatly embarrassed when he
realised the consequences of his actions. (21)"