Unique findings from Dandanakan witnesses about the development of oriental medicines

As is known from medieval sources, the cities along the Silk Route running across the territory of Turkmenistan were famous with the hospitals – the maristans. It was not just medical facilities, it often combined the functions of medical school and philanthropic institutions. Inside and outside it looked like traditional Central Asian madrasah with spacious inner yard with water pool in the centre.

Both local residents and travellers who got sick while travelling used to ask for help in the maristans. Very often, people went intentionally with the caravans from the distance to this or that city where some famous doctor used to live. It was the maristans where such famous doctors and scientists as Biruni and Avicenna (Ibn Sina) were practicing.

Both of them, being almost of the same age, were under the patronage at Khoresmshakh Mamnun II Court in ancient Turkmen city Kunyaurgench where Royal Academy that gathered top scientists of the East of XI century was operating until 1017. The entire millennium has passed since that time but their works are published until now. For example, scientific treatise “Pharmacognosy” contains the register of medicinal herbs taken from around two and half thousands Persian, Greek, Syrian and Indian manuscripts.

The Canon of Medicine by the greatest encyclopaedists Ibn Sina, which he made while he was living in Kunyaurgench, contains five volumes and very famous in the world. There is no such section of medicine including even the hygiene, which was not mentioned in the work. He wrote about how to protect the children from diseases, gave practical advices on treatment of number of heavy diseases, which are very topical until now. Based on his experience he formulated the essence of medic profession by one short phrase: “Doctor has three tools – the word, the herbs and the scalpel”.

In Turkmen cities like in the rest of the Muslim world, the medicine was mandatory part of the education together with the theology, natural science, mathematics, history, geography and literature in the Middle Ages. Medical schools and hospitals that protected and improved ancient knowledge in this sphere existed in Kunyaurgench, Merv and Nisa until XII century. They made great influence on the development of medical science in Spain, Italy, Germany and France. The treaties of oriental authors of IX – XI century translated to Latin were valuble source for the establishment of scientific medicine in the Middle Age Europe.

Outstanding doctors as Ali Ibn Sahl Rabban (IX century), the author of the first medical encyclopaedia, his younger contemporary Ibn Musa who left the works on dieting, health improving water treatment, bleeding, pharmacognosy and botany with description of some medicinal plants used to live in Merv. Founder of national medicine Seyit Ismail Gurgenly (1057 – 1137) made big influence on the development of medicine and has left an indelible mark in the medicine of the East. He spent his last years in Merv at the Courts of Sultan Sanjar.

These scientists wrote many works in surgery, ophthalmology, pharmacology, veterinary, they used to study chemistry and botany, made number of treaties on therapy, psychiatry, history of medicine as well as made practical works. Like their other colleagues contemporaries, the tried to find out the ways of infections spreading by practical measures to stop the epidemics.

Natural scientists of Merv used to gather, describe and categorize herbs and mineral collections. The manuscripts, which were taken out from the libraries of Merv right before the Mongolian Invasion in the first half of XIII century were used by the famous Arabic scientist, botanist, pharmacist and doctor Ibn Al Baytar from Andalusia (Spain). Based on these sources, he wrote the Book of Medicinal and Dietary Terms – true encyclopaedia of medicines with detailed description of more than 1400 medicinal plants and potions with their prescription and application.

The names of some scientists contain so-called “nisba” Mervezi or Merveli – the part of the name describing the birth or living place of the individual, which is Merv in our case. It was not occasionally that Arabic geographer Yakut Al Hamawi noted that “not a single city can be so proud of such number of scientists and other famous and important people”.

In the epoch of the Great Seljuks, Merv was surrounded by the number of satellite cities located along the main routes of the Silk Road running to the capital from all over the world. Today, they are in the focus of special attention of the archaeologists.

Every of several dozens of historical cities around the core of this medieval oasis of Sultan-kala has many information unknown to scientists. This is not taken into consideration precious artefacts that can supplement the collections of the museums.

For a few years, the expedition of National Department of Turkmenistan for Protection, Study and Restoration of historical and cultural monuments and State Historical and Cultural Reserve Ancient Merv have archaeological excavations at Dandanakan (Dashrabat) ancient settlement located 30 km west of modern city Mary. It used to be on the part of the Silk Road between Serakhs and Merv.

Earlier, some beautiful samples of architectural décor, which are kept in the State Museum of Turkmenistan, was found there during the excavations. Two years ago, these exhibits were successfully demonstrated at New York Metropolitan Museum during the exhibition dedicated to Seljuk art.

The remains of tempered brick construction with unusual premises, where large number of small fragments of broken glass and several relatively intact samples of glassware and small metal tools of IX – XII century were found, have been discovered during the last field season last autumn in Dandanakan.

Laboratory analysis and comparative study of this refined items of ancient craftsmen leaves no doubt that discovered articles were used as pharmacists’ (attars) and physicians’ (tebips) instruments. Maybe this is the ruins of maristan? Further excavations will probably answer this question.

However, one thing is obvious: owing to these findings, the scientists got the samples of the instruments and glassware that were used by the doctors and pharmacists of the age of the Great Seljuks. After proper conservation, they will be priceless exhibits of the Museum of Turkmenistan State Medical University and the Museum of Local History of Mary Velayat.

Big scientific centres of the world cooperate with their colleagues from Turkmenistan in archaeological sphere and in restoration of cultural values for several years already. Thus, National Department of Turkmenistan for Protection, Study and Restoration of historical and cultural monuments commenced joint project with Japanese Miho Museum that is aimed at the analysis of the technology and methods of restoration of glazed ceramics of Kunyaurgench and mediaeval glass items.

Paleometal specialists from Italy and Greece participate in long programme of studies of metal items found during the excavations of Turkmen – Italian expeditions in Nisa and Merv as well as the famous monument of Bronze Age Gonur-depe.

The artefacts discovered recently in Dandanakan give the stimulus for further deeper study of this and similar ancient settlements of Merv. Owing to the State Programme of archaeological studies at the monuments located in our country along the Silk Road in 2018 – 2021 developed by the initiative of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the scientists from USA and Great Britain have joined this work.

Kunyaurgench is also awaiting for its time. Its richest cultural layer hides the traces of mamun Academy and promises many sensations in the future.