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Everyday Knowledge and Apothecary Craft: Pharmacopoeias of Ancient Northwestern Honduras

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 August 2021

Shanti Morell-Hart*
McMaster University Department of Anthropology 534 Chester New Hall 1280 Main Street West Hamilton, ONL8S


Medicinal practices were critical in ancient societies, yet we have limited insight into these practices outside references found in ancient texts. Meanwhile, historic and ethnographic resources have documented how a number of plants, from across the landscape, are assembled into pharmacopoeias and transformed into materia medica. These documentary resources attest to diverse healthcare practices that incorporate botanical elements, while residues in the archaeological record (seeds, phytoliths and starch grains) point to a variety of activities, some of them therapeutic in nature. Focusing on four pre-Hispanic communities in northwestern Honduras, I draw upon ethnobotanical and ethnobiological knowledge to infer medical practices potentially represented by ancient plant residues. Comparing these findings with prior investigations, I address the limits of dividing taxa into mutually exclusive categories such as ‘food’, ‘fuel’ and ‘medicine’. I consider the importance of apothecary craft in past lifeways, as well as the persistence of many traditions in contemporary medical practice.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

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