Docs in Babylon practiced good medicine

10/25/2005 5:24:26 AM

CHICAGO, Oct. 24 (UPI) -- An expert on cuneiform and a doctor have teamed up to find that medicine 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia was sophisticated and effective.

In fact, patients in Assyria probably got more useful treatment than anyone in Europe before the 19th century, JoAnn Scurlock and Burton R. Andersen told the Chicago Tribune.

Scurlock, who holds a doctorate in Assyriology from the University of Chicago, and Andersen, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Illinois, examined the available medical texts in cuneiform. They found descriptions of procedures still performed, like draining pus from the lungs and chest of pneumonia patients.

The book published by the University of Illinois has a formidable title, "Diagnoses in Assyrian and Babylonian Medicine," and a formidable price, $150. But its 900 pages appear to be full of fascinating detail.

While doctors were priests and believed illness was divine punishment, they also treated night blindness by feeding patients with liver, now known to be rich in vitamin A.

Greek medicine, which became the model in the West for more than 2,000 years, was a step backward.

"Their best known treatments were bleeding, purging with laxatives, puking and starving," said Andersen. "We now know, of course, all four of those are injurious and very seldom helpful in any circumstance."