Tuesday, April 25, 2017

U for Unusual: Female Scientists Before Our Time



  •  Trepanation – drilling holes in the skull to cure various ailments; some believed to release evil spirits. Perhaps the oldest surgery in history, dating back to 6500 BC. 
The Extraction of the Stone of Madness
-Hieronymus Bosch painting

  • Sickness – ancient Egyptians considered it a punishment sent by the gods; or an attack by angered ghost or demon.
  • Mercury for health – ancient Persians, Greeks and Chinese used it for health, as a common elixir and topical medicine; death from liver and kidney damage was common when ingested. 
  • Bloodletting – withdrawal of blood to cure or prevent disease. A practice dating back to Egypt 1000 BC.
Ancient Greek painting on a vase, showing 
a physician (iatros) bleeding a patient
  • Animal Dung Ointments – all types of dung, a cure-all for disease and injury. Ancient Egyptians swore by it. Might have had some antibiotic benefit. 
  • Cannibal Cures – “corpse medicine” from ground-up mummies, human flesh, blood, or bone and believed to be magical. Practiced by Romans and the English. Thought to cure headaches, ulcers, epilepsy, etc. Practice lasted for years. 
  • Wandering Womb – ancient Greeks believed the womb was a separate creature. Had a mind of its own and could escape from the body and have a ‘walk-a-bout’. Women were told to marry young and bear lots of children to prevent.
  • Hernia cures for infants – have one small green lizard bite the child! Then hang the lizard up over smoke until it dies. 
  • Infant’s first words – If the baby says “ny” it will live. If the baby says “mebi” it will die. Belief dates back to 1550 BC.


Monday, April 24, 2017

T for Tapputi: Female Scientists Before Our Time

Recipe for Perfume

Combine flowers with oil, calamus,
cyperus, myrrh and balsam. 
Mix with water or other solvents.  
Distill. Filter several times. 
 (my format)

This recipe for perfume was found in ancient Babylonian Mesopotamia on a cuneiform tablet dating 1200 BC. It’s the world’s first known record of a perfume-maker and a chemist, and the oldest recorded reference to a still, the apparatus used to distill liquids. The recipe had been recorded by Tapputi (also called Tapputi-Belatekallium).  

"Belatekallium" was the title for female overseer, which would have meant Tapputi had a position of authority at the Royal Palace. A second name, nini, was inscribed on the cuneiform with Tapputi's, but the first part of the name was missing on the tablet [???-nini]

1200 BC. Tapputi-Belatekallium's cuneiform table with perfume recipe.

Ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians are credited with the origins of perfume-making. Egyptians used perfume in religious and cleansing ceremonies, and for embalming, but eventually used perfume as a personal scent too. Burning perfumed incense to the gods would have been important in both cultures, for offerings to their deities and for enhancing the mind and spirit. The medicinal properties of perfume would have played a role as well. In Mesopotamia, for instance, perfume was used for inhalation, poultices, and in medicated baths. 

Egypt relief of perfume-making from flowers pressed in a cloth, 4th Cent BC

The connection between a perfume-maker and a chemist did not require much convincing for me. As I wrote this piece, memories of my daughter and the little perfume-maker kit she had received at Christmas years back kept popping into mind. It may have been her most favorite gift of all time. Dolls were of no interest in comparison. The family oohed and awed over the fragrant scents she created. Years later when she pursued a degree in Micro-Biology, I remembered the little scientist blossoming in our home. It made perfect sense she had chosen a science to study. Perhaps Tapputi had been a similar girl as a child. 

Perfume kit I remember giving our daughter for Christmas

Worwood, Valerie Ann, 2006. Aromatherapy for the Soul: Healing the Spirit with Fragrance and Essential Oils.
New World Library.
Palmer, Irene, 2013. Perfume, Soap and Candle Making - The Beginner’s Guide. Lulu.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

S for Salpe: Female Scientists Before Our Time

Salpe was a 1st Century midwife from the Greek Island of Lemnos. We have Roman author Pliny the Elder to thank for recording some of her life. She had some unusual treatments, all of them unconventional.

It's not likely Salpe was a well-educated woman, which is not to say she wasn't smart. Her form of medicine was different from the medical professionals of her day, and would have appealed more to the common people who couldn't afford to pay for a physician. Salpe relied on a “mix of superstition, herbal cures, prayer, and sympathetic magic.”

Some of Salpe’s unusual remedies:

  • For dog bites - wear the flux of wool from a black ram contained in a silver bracelet.
  • For numb or stiff limbs – spit into the bosom of patient, or touch the upper eyelids with saliva.
  • To strengthen eyes – apply urine.
  • To cure sunburn - mix urine and egg white (ostrich preferred); apply to skin every two hours.
  • To stop a dog from barking – feed it a live frog.  

Woman with elaborate dress and headgear sitting on a stool. 
Terracotta figurine (about 230 BC) from Myrina, 
Isle of Lemnos, Greece.


Friday, April 21, 2017

R for Rufaida Al-Aslamia: Female Scientists Before Our Time

Rufaida Al-Aslamia was the first Muslim woman in the Middle East to become a nurse. Rufaida was born in Medina, Saudi Arabia around 620 AD into the Bani Aslam tribe of the Khazraj tribal confederation. Her people were among the first to accept Islam. Her father, a practicing physician, was an excellent mentor and gave Rufaida her first clinical experience.

Rufaida devoted her life to nursing and social work, caring for the sick and helping those in need, among these, orphans, the handicapped, and the poor. She was a keen promoter of community health and developed "the first code of conduct and ethics." Seeking permission first, she erected a tent outside a mosque and taught the public on health-related topics. Rufaida also organized the first mobile care unit in the community.

During wartime, Rufaida led groups of volunteer nurses into the battlefield. They used tents to shelter the soldiers and treat their injuries, concentrating on hygiene and stabilizing wounds, careful to only touch the injury site per Islamic religious rules for separation of men and women. They were not allowed to do surgeries or amputations, but would do prep work for the male physicians. A nurse's role involved providing physical comfort and emotional support, as well as serving food and giving medicine - "noninvasive duties." 

Rufaida and her team of volunteers participated in the battles of Badr, Uhud, Khandaz, Khaibar, the Trench and others.
Mosque at Salaman, location of Battle of The Trench where Al-Aslami treated the injured

Source: http://sohabih.blogspot.com/2017/02/saidatuna-rufaida-al-aslamia-ra.html