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A short note on JA Scurlock's recent identification of the kamantu-plant with Lawsonia inermis L

Abstract : In a recent study 2 , JoAnn Scurlock, active and esteemed contributor to the JMC 3 , has proposed to identify the plant kamantu with henna (Lawsonia inermis L.). Her interpretation of the « ninety-seven ancient Mesopotamian references 4 to kamantu for which the condition to be treated is known » poses several problems which in the present note I would like to submit to JMC readers and to JoAnn Scurlock herself. § 1-An implicit and questionable premise of JA Scurlock's argument is that the use of kamantu was a rational one, i.e. that it was employed by Mesopotamian physicians for natural (chemical) properties which they knew it to possess. Accordingly, JA Scurlock uses the conditions against which kamantu was prescribed as a starting point from which to infer the plant's natural properties. References are duly made to modern medical and chemical experimentations. However, modern experimental conditions generally have nothing to do with ancient uses of kamantu. For example, in most cases, kamantu appears in receipts mixed with other ingredients 5 , whereas modern scientists, to obtain more convincing results, often extract and concentrate the most active principles of the plant studied by them. § 2-JA Scurlock observes that « most prominent […] are conditions which produce skin lesions ». About 30 per cent of the 97 known kamantu prescriptions are devoted to skin infections and inflammations. This proportion is the main argument invoked by JA Scurlock to identify kamantu with henna, on the basis that, as reported in ethnographical literature, henna is often used for skin antisepsis, health and beauty. But, even if the choice of kamantu by Mesopotamian physicians were motivated by objective and natural reasons, is Lawsonia inermis the one and only botanical candidate still not identified in Cuneiform texts likely to have been used to treat skin diseases at this (rather modest) ratio of 30 per cent ? § 3-Two important characteristics of henna, well known from classical Antiquity to present times, are lacking from the Mesopotamian documentation about kamantu : a) odoriferous flowers (henna is grown in gardens for its pleasant scent ; decoctions of its flowers are employed in the manufacture of perfumed ointments) ; 1 Poitiers.
Mots-clés : botanique Kamantu henné
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https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00575664
Contributor : Luc Renaut <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, February 6, 2019 - 4:24:42 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, September 16, 2020 - 10:10:25 AM
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Luc Renaut. A short note on JA Scurlock's recent identification of the kamantu-plant with Lawsonia inermis L. Journal des médecines cunéiformes, 2007, 10, pp. 47-48. ⟨halshs-00575664⟩

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