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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 March 2006, 13:09 GMT
Medicine from around the globe
By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter

An exhibit
The exhibition features traditional artefacts
Ever wondered what a 19th century African medicine man might have carried in his bag?

For the record it was 30 animal vertebrae, two pebbles, one hoof, two pieces of carved bone and one nut-shell.

Or maybe the appearance of a Sri Lankan syringe in the 16th Century caused a few moments of contemplation?

These are just two of the amazing exhibits that are set to form part of the an exhibition of 'living medical traditions' at the Science Museum.


The exhibition tells the story of the development of medical approaches and treatments globally, and emphasises that 'Western' medicine' is not the only widely used medical tradition.

Exhibits are used to illustrate four other major medical traditions - Ayurveda (Indian); Traditional Chinese Medicine, Unani Tibb (Islamic) and African.

These traditions are still the first port of call for many patients, by choice, as well as necessity
Lisa O'Sullivan

The exhibition discusses the traditions and explores the fact that they are still very much alive and continuing to grow.

Lisa O'Sullivan, senior curator of medicine at the Science Museum, said the project had given them the chance to learn about the traditions and ways of treating illness.

She said some Ayurveda methods of healing, such as yoga and Chinese medicine, have been adopted in the UK, but many were unknown outside their communities.

"When they were collected in the late 19th century, many of them were seen as anthropological curiosities rather than medical objects.

"This project has given us the chance to learn more about some of the objects we hold, as well as acquiring new material.

"But for me what is important is to get a more global view and to say that there are other traditions.


"We called the exhibition 'Living Medical Traditions' because we wanted our visitors to see the vibrancy of these traditions today as well as the richness of their histories."

Ms O'Sullivan said that, to create the exhibition, they had interviewed patients and practitioners from each tradition featured.

She added: "We are keen to show that these traditions are still the first port of call for many patients, by choice, as well as necessity.

"It is important to say that we're not trying to comment on which treatments may, or may not work.

"We are instead trying to explore the diversity of approaches to treating illnesses that have developed in different cultures.

"We have got a whole range of things; some fantastic acupuncture figures and some African nkisi - or 'power figures' - used for healing, amulets and powders."

The exhibition opens on 3 March.

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