Prehistoric Medicine


Archaeology and Medicine

Prehistory is the time before written records.

  • Writing- introduced to Britain by the Romans- 43AD

Archaeology can tell us a lot about prehistoric people.

  • Cave paintings & artwork- believed in a spirtitual world
  • Explanations of illness- evil spirits- require spirtitual or religious cures
  • Normadic hunter gatherers- small extended families- moved following food & resources
  • Social organisation- no extension beyond family structure
  • Stonehenge- involved large numbers- came together (food plentiful) & split up when it wasnt- allowed ideas to be shared

Progress in Prehistoric medicine would have been slow.

  • Infrequency of mass gatherings & lack of writing- slow progress
  • Excavations- inform on attitudes to human remians- some moved remains & brought out for ceremonies
  • Fine & delicate stone tools (flint & obsidian)- surgery was feasible
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Ancient Health and Beliefs

Aboriginal cultures give us clues about prehistory.

  • Practical methods- setting broken bones & bandgaging with spiritual explanantions of illness & cure
  • Witch doctors, shamans & medicine men- ability to cure & inflict illness
  • Preventative medicine (warding off evil) is practised & healing (driving off evil)
  • Rituals & sacrifice involved- rituals- use of herbs, potions & techniques of practical value- seen as magic rather than medicine

Archaeopathology is the study of ancient disease.

  • Study ancient bodies- what disease & health problems occured, how they were treated & how they died
  • Most evidence decayed to bones- limits info that can be gained
  • Some bodies preserved- ice, peat bogs or mummification
  • Trephining or trepanning- cutting holes in peoples heads- let evil spirits out?
  • Modern evidence- trepanning - lead to altered mental sensations- could have been done for practical reasons- treat injurt or epliepsy etc
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