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A Long Time Ago

An ancient Egyptian medical text, known as the Smith Papyrus (circa 2400 B.C.), mentions using copper as a sterilisation agent for drinking water and wounds. Another ancient text, known as the Ebers papyrus (circa 1500 B.C.) mentions the use of copper for headaches, "trembling of the limbs," burns, and itching. The island of Cyprus provided a readily available supply of copper to Greece and is known to have provided much of the copper needed for the empires of ancient Phoenicia and Rome as well. It has also been documented that Israel's Timna Valley provided copper for the Pharaohs.

Hippocrates (circa 400 B.C.), known as the father of modern medicine (and for whom the doctor's Hippocratic oath was named) mentions copper as a treatment for leg ulcers associated from varicose veins. The Greeks also sprinkled a powder of copper oxide and copper sulfate on open wounds and treated wounds with a mixture of honey and red copper oxide.

In the first century A.D., the book De Materia Medica by Dioscorides, describes using verdigris (which they made by exposing metallic copper to vinegar steam to form copper acetate) in combination with copper sulphate as a remedy for bloodshot eyes, inflamed eyes, "fat in the eyes", and cataracts.

Evidence from the time of Roman physician Aulus Cornelius Celsus (14 to 37 A.D.), tells us that copper and its derivatives were firmly established as important drugs. In his book, De Medicina, Celsus details numerous uses for copper,

Pliny (23 to 79 A.D.) described a number of remedies involving copper. Black copper oxide with honey was used to kill intestinal worms and purge the stomach. In diluted form, nose drops were used to "clear the head"; ear-drops relieved ear discomfort and infection, and taken by mouth it relieved mouth sores and ulcers. Diluted copper mixtures were also used for "eye roughness," "eye pain and mistiness."

The ancient Aztec civilisation also used copper for medical purposes, including gargling with a copper mixture for sore throats. In ancient India and Persia, copper was used to treat lung diseases. Copper compounds such as malachite and copper oxide were used on boils and other skin conditions. Copper acetate and copper oxide were used for eye infections. Evidence also shows us that nomadic Mongolian tribes used copper sulphate, taken by mouth, to treat venereal ulcers.