Officially antibiotics were â€œdiscoveredâ€ with the advent of penicillin in 1928. Alas, the official record is at least 1500 years out according to new archaeological research.
The ancient kingdom of Nubia was located in present day Sudan, just south of Ancient Egypt. In recent times Nubian bones from between 350 and 550 AD have been found to contain tetracycline, a modern antibiotic. Now new analysis of these bones has shown some surprising results.
The source of the tetracycline in the Nubian bones has been identified as the Nubian beer. The grain that was used to make the beer contained the soil bacteria Streptomyces which produces tetracycline. The big question is was it only up to chance that the beer contained tetracycline or were the Nubians deliberately using their beer as a source of antibiotics?
The new analysis has suggested an answer to this question.
The results showed that the Nubian bones were saturated with tetracycline, indicating that they had been taking high doses for a long time. Additionally, the tibia and skull of a four year old were loaded with tetracycline suggesting that he was being given high doses to try to cure him of an illness.
In modern times tetracyclines were discovered in 1948 and the first was given the name â€œaureomycinâ€ from the Latin â€œaureosâ€ meaning â€œgoldâ€. It was so named because Streptomyces produce a golden colony of bacteria which the researchers believe would have looked impressive floating on top of beer, especially to a culture that revered gold.
The ancient Egyptians certainly used beer to treat gum disease and other illnesses. It seems that the Nubians had also mastered the art of fermenting antibiotics. According to the researchers it is highly likely that the Nubians knew exactly what they were doing and were brewing antibiotic beer that they knew could cure disease, even if they did not know exactly how it did it.