Salt and Human Health: Science, Archaeology, Ancient Texts and Traditional Practices of Eastern Romania

Article excerpt

This article presents the use of salt water springs in the Moldavian sub-Carpathians (eastern Romania) for treating certain diseases. The authors take into consideration archaeological discoveries and ethnographical surveys, correlated with known facts from the literature in the field. A special focus is on the presence of archaeological sites next to salt water springs, where specific objects were noted that are used in the extraction, storage, manipulation and use of salt waters. Nevertheless, what distinguishes the Romanian region under discussion from similar regions of Europe is the intense, unexpected continuity in the use of a traditional, non-industrial water supply from salt water springs. Among the uses of salt water and halite in the area, we will mention numerous traditional halotherapeutic practices. The concordances shown between ancient and current traditional halotherapeutic practices in eastern Romania infer the existence of a strong halotherapeutic element in prehistory. This aspect is generally neglected by archaeologists who deal with the evolution of human communities in an area rich in salt. The ancient and current halotherapeutic practices in eastern Romania are proof of an authentic ethnoscience acquired by human communities with salt outcrops and salt water springs. The analysis of these practices demonstrates their scientific validity from the current biochemical and biophysical standpoint. The scientific explanation of the various effects of salt upon the human body is, in fact, given by the influence of NaCl aerosols and nanodispersions. Parts of these practices are being adopted by a series of recent halotherapeutic procedures, with reliable scientific and technological bases.

Keywords: Ethnoarchaeology; Ethnoscience; Halotherapy; Salt water springs; Halite; Aerosols.


The halite deposits in Moldavia are the largest in Europe and are distributed on a north-south axis of the sub- Carpathian Unit. In many areas they are close to the surface, as anticlinal or synclinal structures, forming salt massifs. There are 53 salt deposits along a 300 km distance. They stretch over 2-5 km and are up to 5 km thick. The salt deposits at Târgu Ocna-Slanic Moldova in the south and at Cacica in the north are industrially exploited (Stoica & Gherasie 1981). In parallel, though, many of the village or even city inhabitants exploit salt water springs for domestic uses. Salt excavation in the area (today's counties of Suceava, Bacau, Neamt and Vrancea) has been mentioned in documents starting with the 14th-15th centuries (Stoica 2003, p. 35; Vitcu 1987). Nevertheless, salt had been exploited for a long time, since prehistory, in the form of natural brine coming from salt water springs.

Not only Moldavia, but Romania as a whole is wellknown for its huge salt deposits and numerous sources of salt water, therefore the map of the country shows an abundance of place-names based on terms for salt. Since the great majority of the population of Romania speak Romanian (that is, a Romance language), many of the toponyms under discussion (Sarata, Saratura, Saratel, Sarateni, etc.) are based on the Romanian term sare, from Latin sal (< Proto-Indo-European *sal-'salt'). But there also are place-names that show sol- (as in Solca), slat- (as in Slatina), slan- (as in Slanic), or solon- (as in Solonet), which represent Slavic loans that refer to salt (Poruciuc 2008, 144).

In the Moldavian sub-Carpathian area (with a high population density), in valleys of creeks and rivers, there are about 200 salt water springs. Their role in implementing and developing the human habitat, starting with prehistory, has been studied in the geographical and historical Romanian literature since the 1950s (Sandru 1952, 1961). After 2000 we witnessed a remarkable intensification of studies in the field. What differentiates it from other similar areas in Europe is the intense, unexpected continuity of the traditional, non-industrial water supply coming from salt water springs, in cities as well as in villages. …