First-century Roman doctor found in Hungary with bones and tools intact

Who was he? Was he in Jászság to heal a local leader, or was he with the Roman army?
Amal Jos Chacko
The intact skull recovered from the Roman doctor's tomb.
The intact skull recovered from the Roman doctor's tomb.

ELTE Faculty of Humanities 

In an extremely rare finding, the ELTE Faculty of Humanities and the Eötvös Loránd Research Network announced the unearthing of a Roman doctor and his tools in a press release.

Researchers at the ELTE University, in collaboration with the Jász Museum, discovered the tomb of the doctor using a preliminary magnetometer field survey about 49 miles (80km) from Budapest, near the city of Jászberény.

These field surveys involve the use of a magnetometer which measures the strength and direction of the Earth’s magnetic field. A magnetic map created of the area by recording measurements at regular intervals is then used to identify buried objects.

On excavating the area identified through preliminary surveys, the team uncovered the tomb—seemingly untouched for 2000 years—and found two wooden chests along with the physician’s remains, skull, and leg bones intact.

These chests contained high-quality medical tools, including forceps, tweezers, and scalpels which suggests the doctor was a surgeon. These copper-made scalpels bore ornate designs of silver and had replaceable steel blades.

Until now, a complete medical set of similar designs had only been discovered in Pompeii.

First-century Roman doctor found in Hungary with bones and tools intact
Medical instruments unearthed from the tomb.

The team also found a grinding stone placed by the doctor’s knee that might have served to mix herbs and other medicinal plants.

Radiocarbon dating revealed the skeletal remains and other items dating back to the first century. While the researchers ascertain the doctor to be between 50 and 60 years old, the cause of death is still unknown. 

The doctor is believed to have trained at imperial centers and traveled to this area to treat someone. However, further isotopic analysis of the skeleton is required to determine his native origins.

András Gulyás, archaeologist and museologist at Jász Museum, told Arkeonews that it was not clear if the doctor traveled to the Jászság area to heal a local leader of high prestige or instead accompanied Roman military legions.

A press conference was held on April 25, where Prof. Dr. Vida Tivadar, director of the Institute of Archeology of ELTE, presented their findings and displayed the unearthed objects. 

Benedek Varga, director of the Semmelweis Museum of Medical History, termed the excavation a “world sensation.”

The first century saw a transitional period in Jászság between the Sarmatian populations of the Celtic period and the Roman period. 

This excavation is expected to give archeologists and researchers more insight into ancient Roman medical practices and happenings of the region in that era.

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