(Piptosporus betulinis)

An astonishment a day- 
drives your depression away...

Medicine of the Iceman.

In September of 1991, a pair of German mountaineers, while climbing the Tyrol Alps at a height of 3200 metres above sea level, noticed a person half sticking out of the snow. They initially though that it was a victim of an accident and the body was transported to Germnay. However, after further investigation it was discovered that the body was of a traveller that had lain under the snow for over 5300 years. The body had been well preserved as shortly after his death it had been dried out by cold winds and buried under the snow until remaining there until 1991. The matter attracted the interest of anthropologists, and later also medics. It turned out that the body belonged to a man of about fifty years with a height of 1.6 metres. He was trying to cross from the southern regions of the Alps to the north and was surprised by a blizzard. 

Not only was his body preserved, but also his equipment . He was dressed in cow, bear and deer skins as well as woven grass. He had a satchel of hazel and birch, a bag made of birch bark and was armed with a bow of yew and arrows of dogwood and cranberry shrub.
With him were found two pieces of what seemed to be wood, strung onto a leather string. It was initially thought that these were pieces of tinder, but after further analysis is was discovered that they were actually birch polypore (Piptosporus betulinis), which is quite common in the Alps. Until recently, this was used to treat worms and it was hypothesized that the traveler was simply carrying medicines with him. A later autopsy showed, that the traveller did in fact have worms, his digestive tract showed traces of Trychuris trichuria, which causes sharp stomach pains and can lead to anemia. It also turned out that the man was anemic. 

One may conclude that this is the earliest medicine, which has successfully been proven. Up until now, the earliest medicine was though to be opium which was used in the Mediterranean about 4000 years ago.  



(C) (selected from publications of 
 R. Antoszewski

Titirangi, Auckland, 
New Zeland

Jan.  2003

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