A 500-year-old medicine container discovered near Misgund, Eastern Cape, South Africa: Residue characterisation by GC-MS

Justin Bradfield, Stephan Woodborne, Jeremy Hollmann, Ian Dubery

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

The chance discovery of a 500-year-old cattle-horn container in a painted rock shelter on the farm La vie D'Antan in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa sheds new light on the antiquity of traditional medicines in the region. We report the micro-residue and GC-MS results of the solidified substance found inside the horn container. Several plant-based medicinal compounds were tentatively identified, of which mono-methyl inositol and lupeol are the most prevalent. Based on pharmacobotanical studies, we suggest the most probable ailments the medicine would have been used to treat and propose the most likely plants from which the ingredients were sourced. Apart from the rock art, whose contemporaneity has not been established, there is no associated archaeology from which to draw specific cultural associations. Although people clearly have been aware of the medicinal properties of plants for at least the last 200 000 years, this is, to our knowledge, the oldest evidence from southern Africa of a bespoke container that has been used to store multiple combined ingredients of medicinal application. The age of the contents of the horn container, however, could not be independently established, leaving open the possibility that the medicinal container and its contents may not be contemporaneous.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSouth African Journal of Science
Volume119
Issue number1-2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023

Keywords

  • La vie D'Antan
  • lupeol
  • medicine horn
  • mono-methyl inositol
  • traditional medicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences

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