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Ancient Nubians Drank Antibiotic-Laced Beer

timothy posted about 4 years ago | from the what's-a-nubian dept.

Biotech 249

eldavojohn writes "A new analysis of millennia old mummy bones (abstract; full article is paywalled) shows high concentrations of tetracycline, which indicates empirical knowledge and use of antibiotics — most likely consumed in beer. The researchers traced the source of the antibiotics to the soil bacteria streptomyces present in the grain used to ferment the beer. Astonishingly enough, 'Even the tibia and skull belonging to a 4-year-old were full of tetracycline, suggesting that they were giving high doses to the child to try and cure him of illness.' The extent of saturation in the bones leads the scientists to assert that the population regularly consumed tetracycline antibiotics knowing that it would cure certain sicknesses."

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249 comments

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Where are they now? (3, Interesting)

clickety6 (141178) | about 4 years ago | (#33433440)

the population regularly consumed tetracycline antibiotics ... leading to the whole population being suddenly wiped out by the TRSA superbug !

Re:Where are they now? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433484)

Life is terminal.. You won't make it out alive.

No matter how much antibiotics you have..

Re:Where are they now? (0)

Pojut (1027544) | about 4 years ago | (#33433904)

"We believe that whoever has the most stuff when he dies wins. Well, you're dead fucknut. So... you didn't win." -Lewis Black

Re:Where are they now? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33434138)

Life is terminal.. You won't make it out alive.

No matter how much antibiotics you have..

What do you know? I think I'll jump into a black hole. I'll live forever.

Obligatory... (4, Funny)

Adolf Hitroll (562418) | about 4 years ago | (#33433444)

"What's a Nubian?"

Re:Obligatory... (0, Offtopic)

Mr Stubby (1122233) | about 4 years ago | (#33433482)

Bitch, you almost made me laugh.

Re:Obligatory... (4, Funny)

hal2814 (725639) | about 4 years ago | (#33433846)

What about you? You didn't tell me you were gonna scream "Black Rage!" I nearly pissed myself!

Re:Obligatory... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433964)

Hey, I'll play your victim but not your catcher, all right?

Re:Obligatory... (2, Funny)

Frankie70 (803801) | about 4 years ago | (#33433866)

Nubian sounds like a new distro of Linux!
Wait for Knubian with KDE.

Re:Obligatory... (3, Insightful)

sumdumass (711423) | about 4 years ago | (#33433926)

If it was a linux distro, it would be spelled Gnubian or Kgnubian something similar while sporting a picture of some bearded goat thing playing ball with a penguin.

Re:Obligatory... (1)

Crudely_Indecent (739699) | about 4 years ago | (#33434132)

I thought it was a type of ship in the Star Wars prequels...

So what killed the kid? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433446)

The sickness, the tetracycline, or simply the high dose of beer?

Re:So what killed the kid? (5, Funny)

Narcocide (102829) | about 4 years ago | (#33433794)

Drunk driving.

Re:So what killed the kid? (4, Funny)

qwijibo (101731) | about 4 years ago | (#33434090)

The scientist. It would be inhumane to run these tests on a live child.

That's just wrong... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433448)

giving a child drug-laced beer. Next they'll discover they also used medical marijuana, which would be an even greater sin.

Re:That's just wrong... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433830)

Of course, it was the illegal downloading that led to the real fall of their civilisation.

Not really, no (5, Insightful)

shaitand (626655) | about 4 years ago | (#33433466)

Sometimes sick people got better after drinking beer.

How is this any different than any historical herbal remedy? They didn't need to have any more knowledge of anti-biotics than natives eating mushrooms need know the shrooms contain psilocybin.

Bacteria infected their grain, this resulted in anti-biotic beer which became a local herbal remedy or healing potion. No actual discovery of bacteria or idea WHY the remedy heals. Interesting but hardly 'astonishing'.

Re:Not really, no (3, Insightful)

somersault (912633) | about 4 years ago | (#33433510)

Or maybe they just liked beer.. I'm pretty sure most people consuming large doses of beer these days aren't doing it for the health benefits.

Re:Not really, no (3, Insightful)

shaitand (626655) | about 4 years ago | (#33433532)

quite possible, they could have been drowning their sick children in massive doses of beer to ease their suffering.

In the Nubians defense, 'most people consuming large doses of beer these days' aren't consuming anti-biotic beer so they don't have the opportunity to drink it for the same health benefits. Besides that, anti-biotics can be ordered in pure forms now.

Re:Not really, no (5, Insightful)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | about 4 years ago | (#33433684)

If you've ever been to Africa, you'll know this. The reason you drink only beer, no matter your objections and thoughts on the matter is that you're relatively sure it won't infect you with an illness. Drinking water from a pond in the jungle is Russian roulette. Drinking water offered by inhabitants of a village is asking for poison.

Even today, in remote parts of Africa you drink either bottled water (which you check before you drink it), or beer. Nothing else. You just can't trust it.

And let's not talk about the food.

Re:Not really, no (3, Informative)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | about 4 years ago | (#33434048)

Beer : contains alcohol - which kills many water borne pathogens, is made by boiling water, which kills most of the rest

Medieval Europe and colonial North America drank large amounts of "Small Beer" Low alcohol beer, instead of water for precisely this reason, it was simply but very effectively abiotic

All the Nubian's added to this was that they stumbled across an ingredient that made it anti-biotic as well...

In the Ancient Near-East (Sumeria/Babylon etc) they drank Mead - Honey beer that is also anti-biotic ....

Re:Not really, no (5, Informative)

dargaud (518470) | about 4 years ago | (#33434384)

You are wrong in attributing the drinkability of beer to alcohol: beer doesn't contain enough alcohol to kill most pathogens (2 to 8% in traditional beers). It does so thanks to competition with yeast. You have many germs in your brew when you start it, but if all goes well only yeast grows and eliminates the competition. Sometimes a brew can go bad where the yeast is eliminated by other germs, but then it's rather easy to tell: it doesn't smell, looks or taste like beer, so you don't drink it. With water you can't tell.

Re:Not really, no (1)

pedantic bore (740196) | about 4 years ago | (#33434066)

I'd mod you up if I had some points. This is the most likely explanation. It's why people many other places in the world throughout history have embraced fermented beverages.

Re:Not really, no (1)

ptbarnett (159784) | about 4 years ago | (#33434218)

The reason you drink only beer, no matter your objections and thoughts on the matter is that you're relatively sure it won't infect you with an illness.

In colonial times, the United States was similar. The first batch of beer went to the pubs or into private stashes.

The wort was re-used for multiple batches, which were much lower in alcohol content. But, it was enough to kill the pathogens and was drank at every meal. It was even served to children.

Re:Not really, no (4, Informative)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | about 4 years ago | (#33433530)

Ya this kinda sounds like herbal medicine BS in reverse. Rather than saying "People used herbs to cure illness so these herbs will cure you!" form of modern luddism this is kind of a reverse claim of forced sophistication "These people's remedy had anti-biotics so clearly they know about anti-biotics and did it on purpose!"

I doubt there was empirical testing going on here. As the parent said, the beer sometimes helped people get better so they used it. This is like any other herbal remedy. Once we got better at all this and started testing, we found that sometimes herbal remedies were on the money. People used willow bark as an analgesic and fever reducer and sure as shit, one of the ingredients works great and lead to aspirin. Others have some minor benefits, sometimes it is questionable if it is statistically significant but the seem to help in some things. Others were just placebo, they don't do shit.

None of this was know, hence why there's a great mixture.

I like what Dara O' Briain has to say about it: "Oh herbal medicine has been around for thousands of years. Indeed it has, and then we tested it all and the stuff that worked became -medicine-. And the rest of it is just a nice bowl of soup and some potpourri. So knock yourselves out."

Re:Not really, no (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433582)

There is also the minor consideration that drinking "pure" water would kill you (cholera, etc) and the alcohol in the beer killed the bacteria up front so kids drinking beer was not unusual

Re:Not really, no (2)

kahless62003 (1372913) | about 4 years ago | (#33433868)

I think it was here-abouts I read (so make of it what you will) that it's not the alcohol content, but the fact the one of the stages of the beer-making process involves boiling the water.

Re:Not really, no (3, Informative)

hal2814 (725639) | about 4 years ago | (#33433970)

No, it's the alcohol content and relatively low PH (usually in the 4-5 range) that makes beer so unfriendly for pathogens. There are even styles of beer like Berliner Weisse [wikipedia.org] that are not traditionally boiled but are still far safer to drink than water of unknown quality.

Re:Not really, no (2, Informative)

NotBornYesterday (1093817) | about 4 years ago | (#33434404)

The basic process goes like this: Heat h2o until good and hot, but not boiling (about 150 deg f.), mix in grains, let sit a hour or 2 or 3, drain resulting liquid off the spent grains, boil liquid, cool it, pitch yeast, allow to ferment.

Initial boiling kills anything in the water used to make the beer, the alcohol from fermentation helps prevent subsequent infection from most other microorganisms. Other more herbal ingredients (hops, for instance) can add other antimicrobial properties. There is a period of time after boiling and before the yeast has established itself when other organisms could infect the beer.

That being said, technically speaking, you can make beer without boiling it.

Re:Not really, no (5, Informative)

shaitand (626655) | about 4 years ago | (#33433632)

I wouldn't go as far with herb bashing as you (you seem to be implying willow bark is the only herb with a better than minor effect). Half the herbs on the shelf in GNC have peer reviewed double blind studies backing them which is really all the prescription drugs show. The effects or many are significant enough they need to be considered right alongside prescription meds for contraindications.

None of that is to say that there is any sort of manufacturing oversight, claims testing (particularly in the diet and erectile dysfunction areas) or that a natural random soup of chemicals is somehow automatically safer than an intelligently purpose crafted solution. But there ARE many effective herbal remedies and some that seem to be more effective than prescription solutions (marijuana is far more effective than comparable prescription medications in not one but numerous areas). Another example is fish oil, like marijuana there are many physicians recommending fish oil over FDA approved supplements.

A lot of people have a bogus idea about herbal testing. They think because no testing is required that none is performed. Or they believe some odd myth that none of these substances have been shown effective in testing. Or that a single molecule is always responsible for the effects. There is less money to be made herbal remedies and less control of claims. As a result there are fewer studies into their effects. Just the same there have been many studies (though far less than of prescription meds) and they OFTEN show benefits vs placebo not rarely.

Re:Not really, no (0)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 4 years ago | (#33433672)

[citation needed]. Really, really needed.

Re:Not really, no (5, Informative)

shaitand (626655) | about 4 years ago | (#33433796)

Citation for what exactly? I didn't say anything that isn't widely known and easily findable with a simple google search. My examples can also be verified with simple searching. Of course my statements regarding herbs and contraindications are easy enough to find in the PDR. If you have trouble distinguishing noise from signal then try walking into a GNC and picking up a bottle then taking it to the counter.

GNC regularly distributes a large compendium of what, if any, studies have been conducted on the herbs in the supplements they carry or their (suspected) active ingredients. They only have basics, summary of conclusions, basic type of study (sample size, single or double blind, etc). If you want more detail you need to get more detailed with the question. GNC should be able to provide you with enough information to find the full text of any individual study yourself.

Of course your results at GNC are going to vary with the competence of the person at the counter. If you get an incompetent they will probably let you grab the book and search yourself.

I think a lot of the myths are supported with broad negative conclusions drawn from properly narrow studies. For instance a study on Ginko Biloba came out recently which showed that it wasn't effective at restoring memory function to the elderly who had already lost function. Previous studies showed that Ginko enhanced memory function in adults (without control for memory loss). These are completely different things but people immediately jumped on the Ginko is debunked now train.

Note: I'm not actually saying that Ginko is effective. I don't use any drugs (herbal or prescription) outside those in a carefully controlled diet unless I have an immediate medical need with risks that override the crapshoot that comes with haphazardly tossing chemicals into the delicate and poorly understood chemical balance that is my body.

Re:Not really, no (1)

bhartman34 (886109) | about 4 years ago | (#33434040)

The problem with all neutriceuticals is that there's a loophole in the law (at least in the U.S.) that allows them to bypass the FDA testing process. That's why with all of the TV ads, you'll see, "These claims have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to cure, prevent, or treat any disease." Basically, they can make any claims they want in the ads, and the products only have to be as effective as PEZ.

Prescription drugs, on the other hand, have to go through clinical trials [wikipedia.org] show at least three things to get FDA approval:

1) Toxicity (i.e., at what level is the drug going to cause an adverse effect)
2) Safety (i.e., testing to assure that the drug's components, at the formulation intended, is safe)
3) Efficacy (i.e., that the drug does what it's intended to do)

For the neutriceutical companies, the problem is that FDA clinical trials are expensive. It's much cheaper to conduct your own study, focus solely on the active ingredient, and tailor the study carefully to only talk about efficacy. And a study by Congress [nytimes.com] found that there are many neutriceuticals that either contain hazardous contaminants, or else don't contain enough of the active ingredients they're supposed to have to have any effect on health. (You probably won't hear about that at GNC, though.)

The bottom line is this: If a substance is potent enough to have an effect on your health, it's a drug, and is subject to regulation by the FDA. At the very least, the fact that these neutriceuticals aren't subject to testing by the FDA means that, at best, you're taking a placebo (i.e., you'd be better off taking PEZ, since it's cheaper).

Re:Not really, no (4, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | about 4 years ago | (#33434216)

If a substance is potent enough to have an effect on your health, it's a drug, and is subject to regulation by the FDA.

This reasoning is about as sound as "Of course marijuana is bad for you: it's illegal!"

Until last year tobacco was not regulated by the FDA, and I'm pretty sure the active ingredient in it was known to be "potent enough to have an effect on your health" even way back in the dark ages of 2008. To say nothing of caffeine, which is not regulated by the FDA as a drug but as a food ingredient or dietary supplement... like an "herbal".

Re:Not really, no (1)

plumby (179557) | about 4 years ago | (#33433934)

you seem to be implying willow bark is the only herb with a better than minor effect

I could be wrong, but I think you're reading something into his statement that's not there. I didn't see anything that suggested it was the only effective herb - it was just a single example.

Another example is fish oil, like marijuana there are many physicians recommending fish oil over FDA approved supplements.

You might want to look at what Ben Goldacre has to say about fish oils, and the poor science behind much of their promotion, on http://www.badscience.net/ [badscience.net] .

Re:Not really, no (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433734)

I doubt there was empirical testing going on here. As the parent said, the beer sometimes helped people get better so they used it.

Isn't that empirical by definition?

Re:Not really, no (1)

shaitand (626655) | about 4 years ago | (#33433824)

Technically yes. I'm still not impressed. People have been observing and acting based on the results of those observations since the dawn of man. That didn't miraculously start with the formalized scientific method and I don't think anyone is claiming it did.

Additionally, this is how most other herbal remedies were discovered so there still isn't anything astonishing about it.

Re:Not really, no (2, Insightful)

tverbeek (457094) | about 4 years ago | (#33434376)

Is someone asking you to be "impressed" or "astonished" by this? Try "interested" or "amused" (because it's beer). It's just anecdote about how early humans developed primitive medicine, stumbling by blind luck into something that they surely didn't understand, but modern science has confirmed as medically effective.

Re:Not really, no (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433874)

far in the future some asshole will stumble upon an almost entirely destroyed dvd of /. posts, will see yours and say "These people used some form of electronic medium to communicate. However, we, the self proclaimed clerisy insist that they didn't have any actual understanding of the technology they used, they simply used it to bitch about other people and yet were entirely ignorant of the underlying mechanisms that enabled their communication."

The guy will be almost as much of a dick as you are. dick.

I know nothing about this field of science (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433472)

Still gonna talk about it.

1: If the substance was found in the soil, and the body was buried, doesn't that mean it might just have absorbed it from the soil it was buried in?

2: Since the reason their beer had antibiotics was due to a lucky coincidence of having soil laced with the antibiotic, did they really know about antibiotics or did they just think they had "magic beer" that cured illnesses.

3: Maybe they just really liked their beer which is why so many of them drank it.

Re:I know nothing about this field of science (4, Insightful)

digitig (1056110) | about 4 years ago | (#33433528)

2: Since the reason their beer had antibiotics was due to a lucky coincidence of having soil laced with the antibiotic, did they really know about antibiotics or did they just think they had "magic beer" that cured illnesses.

Perhaps you didn't understand the bit in the summary that referred to empirical knowledge and use of antibiotics?

Re:I know nothing about this field of science (5, Insightful)

DarkKnightRadick (268025) | about 4 years ago | (#33433590)

What surprises is me is the complete elitism of knowledge that shows its ugly head when an article like this pops up. "Oh they didn't have modern science so they must have been complete n00bs and were just drinking 'magic beer' that sometimes helped." This is completely regardless of the fact that this is already centuries after Plato and Hippocrates or any other ancient looks into philosophy and medicine.

Could it possibly be, as you and the article suggest, that they had empirical knowledge of what they were doing? God forbid if that were true! /sarcasm

Re:I know nothing about this field of science (5, Funny)

gtall (79522) | about 4 years ago | (#33433626)

"must have been complete n00bs", well....they were called Nubians.

Re:I know nothing about this field of science (1)

DarkKnightRadick (268025) | about 4 years ago | (#33433662)

Yeah, I wanted to make that joke too, but I'm too fed up by the cultural elitism (and no, I'm not new to /.)

Re:I know nothing about this field of science (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433706)

I wanted to make that joke too but my dick spontaneously combusted and my balls turned into a giant radish. Needless to say, I was preoccupied and when I got back to make the joke, it had been made. So I decided to explain that I wanted to make the joke and found someone else had done that too about the time my balls were radishized. Ah well...

Re:I know nothing about this field of science (1)

glebovitz (202712) | about 4 years ago | (#33433826)

I wanted to make this joke too, but I was totally absorbed with drinking anti-biotic laced beer. Who'da thunk.

Re:I know nothing about this field of science (1)

orateam (861461) | about 4 years ago | (#33434190)

New use for the word.. n00bians

Re:I know nothing about this field of science (3, Insightful)

marcello_dl (667940) | about 4 years ago | (#33433764)

In fact Science is a protocol to make the most out of observations, but empirical knowledge is the superset of experimental knowledge. Science supersedes it but empirical knowledge works for humans and animals since the dawn of time.

Besides, Science is about experimentation, publication, replication and validation of result, theories forming or being demolished because of such results.

But now?

We have NDAs, patents, trade secrets, corporate manipulation of the media,this is not the scientific process, this is a religion in disguise. "Believe our results".

To the guy dissing herbs, the origin of the medicament is irrelevant all it matters is its efficiency. If penicillin can cure and amanita muscaria can kill, natural stuff can have dramatic effects on health, obviously.

Re:I know nothing about this field of science (2, Informative)

glebovitz (202712) | about 4 years ago | (#33433870)

Wasn't the discover of penicillin similar to this empirical discovery? Someone (Fleming) accidentally noticed that bacteria didn't grow around penicillin mold decided that this could work inside the body. As the time penicillin was discovered, we had little knowledge of how it actually worked.

The difference between the Nubians and modern researchers is peer review. Fleming originally thought that penicillin was not useful to treat illness because it was quickly secreted by the body and thus reducing its effectiveness. Based on his published work, other scientists were able to advance the science and increase its effectiveness as a treatment.

Re:I know nothing about this field of science (1)

delinear (991444) | about 4 years ago | (#33433950)

You're missing the guy's point. He wasn't saying that people didn't sometimes (or even often) nail it, he was saying that for every piece of evidence of someone using a natural remedy which science today validates, there is an ocean of examples of people using remedies that either did nothing or were counter-productive, even fatal (I mean it's practically yesterday in historical terms since the definitive treatment for most ailments was a good bleeding, and less than a hundred years since we thought it was a good idea to add radium to toothpaste). We only ever hear about the ones that were correct, which might give the impression that there's some vast untapped well of ancient knowledge instead of a hodgepodge of trial and error and superstition.

Re:I know nothing about this field of science (2, Informative)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | about 4 years ago | (#33434082)

Science - If you do this it does this, Because....

Empirical - If you do this it does that, it doesn't matter why

Chewing willow bark can ease toothache, but most of the Willow bark is unnecessary it's just the salicylic acid that does the job ...

Re:I know nothing about this field of science (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33434380)

I think that it is too much of a stretch to say that they "had empirical knowledge and use of antibiotics".

I don't have access to the main article but I read the abstract and the second linked article, which states: "But it's becoming increasingly clear that this prehistoric population was using empirical evidence to develop therapeutic agents."

All this would mean is that they noticed they got better after drinking beer, which makes sense.

Re:I know nothing about this field of science (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about 4 years ago | (#33433654)

3: Maybe they just really liked their beer which is why so many of them drank it.

Yeap, and they used to feed their kids heaps of beer on regular basis (??!).Or maybe they weren't their kids after all? [google.com.au] (hint: search for "nubians" on the page and read around a bit).

My point is: generating hypotheses (and verifying them) is quite risky when the cultural/ethical/time distances are huge.

BTW: does anyone know how stable the tetracyclines are in hydrofluoric acid?

Mmm ... (2, Funny)

thomst (1640045) | about 4 years ago | (#33433506)

... beer!

Re:Mmm ... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433578)

What the fuck? Why are you littering my screen with useless comments?

Please mod this down as offtopic.

Re:Mmm ... (2, Funny)

M8e (1008767) | about 4 years ago | (#33433692)

Please mod this funny!

Re:Mmm ... (2, Funny)

lennier1 (264730) | about 4 years ago | (#33433640)

Beats the story about whisky made from a diabetic's urine.

Re:Mmm ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433898)

Not if the diabetic was taking penicillin!

Re:Mmm ... (2, Funny)

pinkushun (1467193) | about 4 years ago | (#33434348)

I'll drink to that.

Let's see (5, Funny)

Exitar (809068) | about 4 years ago | (#33433508)

1. A new analysis of millennia old mummy bones shows high concentrations of tetracycline.
2. The researchers traced the source of the antibiotics to the soil bacteria streptomyces present in the grain used to ferment the beer.
3. Even the tibia and skull belonging to a 4-year-old were full of tetracycline.

Why my conclusion isn't "the population regularly consumed tetracycline antibiotics knowing that it would cure certain sicknesses." but "the Nubian were a bunch of alcoholics, including the children"?

Re:Let's see (1)

RivenAleem (1590553) | about 4 years ago | (#33433660)

Or, "expecting mothers drank copious amounts of beer during pregnancy, for it's 'antibiotic' properties"

Re:Let's see (2, Insightful)

delinear (991444) | about 4 years ago | (#33433968)

Quite a lot of expectant mothers drink copious amounts of beer just prior to pregnancy, too.

Re:Let's see (1)

glebovitz (202712) | about 4 years ago | (#33433900)

Gosh, maybe if you did a little research you could find better interpretation of the facts. Tetracycline and penicillin are rapidly excreted by the body. This means that you must consume lots of the drugs to be effective. This actually confirms that the Nubians knew more about the process then one might think.

As a side note, we don't have this issue because the discovery of probenecid increased the time penicillin remained in the body making it much more effective.

Re:Let's see (2, Insightful)

mar1boro (189737) | about 4 years ago | (#33434058)

This means that you must consume lots of the drugs to be effective. This actually confirms that the Nubians knew more about the process then one might think.

No. No it doesn't. No causality has been established. As of this moment, high levels of Tetracyclene mean one thing only: large quantities of Tetracyclene entered their bodies. That's it.

Of course (1)

nicc777 (614519) | about 4 years ago | (#33433516)

It's because of the irresponsible waste of antibiotics by Adama and Roslin that humans had to learn it all over again :-)

Either that or (4, Interesting)

salesgeek (263995) | about 4 years ago | (#33433548)

Ancient nubians used moldy grain when making beer.
(Yes, streptomyces is a bacteria, but colonies look like and are often confused with mold.)

Sometimes a duck is just a duck. Sometimes, a duck is a cornish game hen in an inflatable suit.

Re:Either that or (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433598)

Ancient nubians used moldy grain when making beer. (Yes, streptomyces is a bacteria, but colonies look like and are often confused with mold.)

Sometimes a duck is just a duck. Sometimes, a duck is a cornish game hen in an inflatable suit.

Then the last thing you would need to add is that 4 year olds regularly drank beer in their society. Especially ones that were going to die very very soon -- and that's because they just used moldy grain while making beer. Not because they knew it had some magic effect.

Re:Either that or (4, Informative)

teridon (139550) | about 4 years ago | (#33434028)

The full article notes that simple contamination wouldn't have generated enough tetracycline to match what they detected.

The extent of the [osteon] labeling suggests that the population received tetracycline during osteon mineralization, which occurs during periods of ~80 days. This finding contradicts the notion that the osteons were labeled by a one time event of bacterial contamination of grains or foodstuffs. [...]In contrast, surface inoculation of cracked and water-treated grains would produce tetracycline, but in low yields compared with liquid fermentation

So, the population must have cultured this brew to generate enough tetracycline. Whether it was deliberate (because they knew it had health benefits) or just a happy accident that they kept using the right culture is unanswered.

Re:Either that or (2, Insightful)

foniksonik (573572) | about 4 years ago | (#33434092)

Question should be: "what other kinds of mold grow on the plants being fermented which were not selected for due to their dangerous effects?" such as the mold that has LSD in it.

There are many possible combinations that would not be good, so actively selecting one which is = cultivation of medicine, not randomness.

Re:Either that or (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | about 4 years ago | (#33434102)

Making and drinking beer was extremely common in the ancient world - the Water was often full of parasites and disease and the process of turning water into beer killed most of them, this was "Small Beer" i.e. with a very low alcohol content, and everybody drank it rather than water ....

In the ancient near east they drank Honey Beer (Mead) which is also slightly anti-biotic .....

Re:Either that or (1)

darkstar949 (697933) | about 4 years ago | (#33434274)

If the NAX population did produce gruels or beer fermentations using Actinomycete bacteria, they would also have needed to inoculate the media used with greater than 10% of an active culture or previous fermentation broth to achieve the growth needed to produce sufficient quantities of tetracycline in a liquid fermentation medium (McCormick et al., 1959). In contrast, surface inoculation of cracked and water-treated grains would produce tetracycline, but in low yields compared with liquid fermentation (Novotny and Herold, 1960).

If I am understanding the article correctly, it sounds like they are implying that either the Nubian population was using really moldy grain to brew their beer, or they might have stumbled upon something that made them want to use the moldy beer for some other reason. It could be something as simple as someone made a batch of beer with some moldy grain and found they liked the taste, to finding that someone got better after being given the beer which lead to them making it the standard brew. Hard to really speculate about something that far back, but based on the article it seems to me they knew what they were doing when they made the beer and had a reason for making it that way.

to try and cure him (1)

BobZee1 (1065450) | about 4 years ago | (#33433602)

to try and cure him... to try to cure him.... which sounds better to you?

Re:to try and cure him (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433616)

to try and cure him... to try to cure him.... which sounds better to you?

The latter... if you're Hannibal Lector.

Re:to try and cure him (1)

noidentity (188756) | about 4 years ago | (#33433638)

to try and cure him... to try to cure him.... which sounds better to you?

I prefer "to try or cure him".

What... (1, Troll)

ZDRuX (1010435) | about 4 years ago | (#33433604)

Even the tibia and skull belonging to a 4-year-old were full of tetracycline, suggesting that they were giving high doses to the child to try and cure him of illness.

And why wouldn't they give this "cure" to a child? Did they have clinical trials that showed liver damage with extensive use of alcohol? And it's not like their younger population got drunk and got into bar fights.

That's like finding out ancient tribes used to smoke marihuana or consume magic mushrooms and saying "Oh gosh! How could they do this, didn't they know Liberals in the future will outlaw fun and make it it illegal?!"

Re:What... (3, Insightful)

fey000 (1374173) | about 4 years ago | (#33433880)

The average life expectancy we have today is significantly higher than it was back then. As such, it may well be that these Nubians never even experienced the consequences of liver damage outside a few extreme cases.

Re:What... (2)

locallyunscene (1000523) | about 4 years ago | (#33434104)

Yes, because Liberals are the big supporters of The War on Drugs. Oh wait no, that's religious conservatives. It may have been expanded by FDR(Who was more of a Statist than a Liberal, desperate times I suppose.), but it existed before then, and has certainly the pet project of many conservative.Presidents and policy makers since.

Re:What... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33434160)

http://news.google.com/news/search?aq=f&pz=1&cf=all&ned=us&hl=en&q=drinkers+live+longer

Re:What... (2, Informative)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | about 4 years ago | (#33434162)

The beer most people drank had a very low alcohol content, and getting drunk in public was frowned upon even then ....

Re:What... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33434284)

I always thought it was the conservatives(well the religious ones) that hated fun...and the liberals were all for fun, with the highly conservative 1950s being overthrown by the liberal collage students in the 1960s.

But you know, nice of you to bring current politics into a discussion that is about a civilization over a millions years old.

Now about the article, I don't think they had working knowledge of the antibiotics but they probably did know that their beer did cure illness where as other beer did not.

Confusion (1)

Joebert (946227) | about 4 years ago | (#33433628)

I think it's more likely that these people just ate a lot of dirt with the stuff in it.

This isn't surprising (4, Interesting)

geogob (569250) | about 4 years ago | (#33433636)

There are a lot of ancient evidence of indirect antibiotic use, usually through moulds grown on specific substrates (e.g. specific type of bread). The ancient use of penicillin is another good example of this. Of course, they didn't known what compound was responsible for this, but they nevertheless found efficient way to produce it and found out when it was good to used it to cure specific illnesses.

What's particularly interesting about TFA, is that this research seems to suggest that the use of antibiotics was very common and systematic.

So where are they now? (1)

Skapare (16644) | about 4 years ago | (#33433728)

I don't see any around. Did it kill them off?

Re:So where are they now? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433848)

Where are the Nubians now?

Their descendants are in Sudan, mostly. And southern Egypt.

Re:So where are they now? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33434038)

And state prison.

Why is this surprising anyone? (5, Insightful)

tpstigers (1075021) | about 4 years ago | (#33433754)

Why do modern people think everyone in the past was stupid? Is it really so much of a stretch to believe that ancient people were capable of figuring out that consuming certain substances helped cure certain ailments? They managed to figure out monumental architecture - is it so hard to believe that they could do the math and realize that drinking beer helped them feel better under certain circumstances? The fact that ancient people didn't have access to the internet doesn't mean they were idiots.

Re:Why is this surprising anyone? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433792)

The Nubians didn't..... they were niggers.

You're thinking of the Egyptians et al.

Re:Why is this surprising anyone? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433842)

> Why do modern people think everyone in the past was stupid?

Maybe they are just assuming they were just like us.

Re:Why is this surprising anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433850)

There's a major difference between "feel[ing] better under certain circumstances" and having any real scientific knowledge about this beer or antibiotics. Western medicine has only recently begun to be less than barbarism, and even with today's attempts at being scientific it's still common for us to reverse our positions about particular foods or drugs -- e.g., are chocolate/coffee/eggs/alcohol good or bad to consume?

What are the odds that they had any real knowledge of the beer's antibiotic properties -- or anything even remotely like that -- compared with the odds of this being pure, dumb luck of one of their crap remedies happening to coincide with actual medicine? With mankind's long history of snake oils and remedies that made things worse (e.g., intentionally bleeding people), it seems like we're bound to have find a few ancient cures that happened to hit on things that actually worked without any particularly scientific rationale or insight or other genuinely intriguing element involved.

Re:Why is this surprising anyone? (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 4 years ago | (#33433876)

Making beer - so easy a caveman can do it!

But beer was actually one of the earliest inventions of civilized humans, because it allowed them to drink liquids without having to worry much about waterborne diseases such as dysentery and cholera, and acted as a fantastic way of storing the food energy of grains. Basically, if a culture grew grains, they made alcohol with it.

Re:Why is this surprising anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433958)

The fact that ancient people didn't have access to the internet doesn't mean they were idiots.

I thought access to the internet made modern people stupid

Re:Why is this surprising anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33434062)

I thought access to the internet made most people idiots...

Bacterial drug resistance (3, Interesting)

skeffstone (1299289) | about 4 years ago | (#33433854)

Question: Is resistance to antibiotics energy-unfavourable for bacteria? Meaning, if antibiotics are not abundantly present to guide bacterial evolution, will bacterial strains revert to a 'simpler structure' and become susceptible to antibiotics again?

Re:Bacterial drug resistance (1)

dargaud (518470) | about 4 years ago | (#33434408)

Question: Is resistance to antibiotics energy-unfavourable for bacteria? Meaning, if antibiotics are not abundantly present to guide bacterial evolution, will bacterial strains revert to a 'simpler structure' and become susceptible to antibiotics again?

Yes. But it takes a long time. I know, citation needed, blah, blah...

Fark filter (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433858)

Nubian please!

no wonder, even (other) animals use antibiotics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33433984)

Wounded animals lay down on moss to heal these wounds. So why should this animal, which calls himself distinct from all the others, not be able to use natural ressources? Even Fleming didn't do anything else, his achievement is the utilisation of modern science (getting good results from not knowing what they are doing).

cb

Antibiotics intended? (1)

fitzpatri8 (1891424) | about 4 years ago | (#33434172)

Was this just an unintended side-effect of making their water fit to drink, or did they recognize the benefit of antibiotics and intentionally grow bacteria? If the latter, did they perform double-blind tests to confirm medicinal effect or did beer drinkers simply live longer and therefore had more opportunity to procreate? Without clear documentation, we can only make semi-educated guesses about what they accomplished. There's a lesson here. Some day, after a stray meteor takes out humanity on earth, a curious alien race drawn by our projected radio signals is going to visit to assess our accomplishments. The stuff that is documented and committed to media that can withstand heavy impact and vibration and doesn't need electricity, that will go down in their History of Earthlings. But all the online content, the Internet-based research and collaboration? That'll just be material for aliens to argue about on their version of /.

Damn Fools (4, Interesting)

OldHawk777 (19923) | about 4 years ago | (#33434178)

They did not consume high concentrations of tetracycline.

They knew beer was good and healthy for people, and consumed very high concentrations of beer!

Bless the Gods Byggver and Silenus for BEER!

If paywalled, why give free traffic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33434200)

If the article is paywalled, why give it free advertising and free traffic.

If it is paywalled, it should get no traffic.

What's a Nubian? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#33434362)

Yes, I went there.

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