Friday, October 8, 2010

Galen's hospital at Allianoi to be flooded

I was quite disturbed when I read this article in the Lebanon Daily Star.  A hospital once used by the famous second century physician Galen is being covered with sand as we speak because the government of Turkey has decided that farmers in western Turkey can't wait for archaeologists to complete excavation of the site before beginning intensive irrigation with water from a dam project built in 2007.
"...workers dump wheelbarrows of sand over the foundations of the hospital of Galen, a prominent Roman physician born in the 2nd century AD in the nearby city of Pergamon, or modern-day Bergama.
Roman remains at Allianoi.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Soon the thermal bath – with its five-meter-high walls and a pool still powered by a hot spring – will disappear under the sand, after being covered with a pinkish protective coating, along with buildings looking out over a columned courtyard, rooms covered with mosaics and paved walkways." - The Daily Star, Lebanon

Professor Ahmet Yaras, who has spent the last nine years excavating at Allianoi points out that this is the most complete health center from the ancient world ever found and he has only uncovered 20% of the site to date.  Besides the thermal baths, bridges,  streets, insulae, a propylon (monumental gateway) and a nympheum were all planned and built during second century CE.
Turkey's environment minister claims Allianoi is nothing more than a hot spring like many others across Turkey.  I wonder if he's ever even been there?  It looks like a site with substantial ruins to me based on this picture.  Once again it appears that a piece of our cultural heritage will become the victim of short sighted men interested only in short term profit.  The loss of this site is especially painful since modern studies have shown benefits from such irrigation systems are brief before mineral salts build up and diminish agricultural returns.
So much of what our modern physicians know about anatomy and biological systems is the result of very early studies by Galen.  It will be a pity to lose the opportunity to perhaps uncover more information about his research.
Claude Galien. Lithograph by Pierre Roche Vign...Image via Wikipedia
Galen’s principal interest was in human anatomy, but Roman law had prohibited the dissection of human cadavers since about 150 BCE. Because of this restriction, Galen performed anatomical dissections on living and dead animals, mostly focusing on pigs and primates. This work turned out to be particularly useful because in most cases, the anatomical structures of these animals closely mirror those of humans. Galen clarified the anatomy of the trachea and was the first to demonstrate that the larynx generates the voice. Galen may have understood the importance of artificial ventilation, because in one of his experiments he used bellows to inflate the lungs of a dead animal.
Among Galen’s major contributions to medicine was his work on the circulatory system. He was the first to recognize that there were distinct differences between venous (dark) and arterial (bright) blood. Although his many anatomical experiments on animal models led him to a more complete understanding of the circulatory system, nervous system, respiratory system and other structures, his work was not without scientific inaccuracies. Galen believed that the circulatory system consisted of two separate one-way systems of distribution, rather than a single unified system of circulation. His understanding was that venous blood was generated in the liver, from where it was distributed and consumed by all organs of the body. He posited that arterial blood originated in the heart, from where it was distributed and consumed by all organs of the body. The blood was then regenerated in either the liver or the heart, completing the cycle. Galen also believed in the existence of a group of blood vessels he called the rete mirabile, near the back of the human brain.Both of these theories of the circulation of blood were later shown to be incorrect. - Wikipedia
I became very interested in Galen after watching an episode about him in the History Channel series "Ancient Discoveries".  I highly recommend the program for those of you who wish to learn more about this gifted Roman citizen.
Galen and the Gateway to Medicine (Living History Library)      The Cambridge Companion to Galen (Cambridge Companions to Philosophy)
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