​Prehistorical Medicine

​Prehistorical Medicine

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  1. “Medicine is as old as humankind. More than 50,000 years ago, stone-age, cave-dwelling humans first crushed and infused herbs for their curative properties.” -Steve Parker, Kill or Cure

    We are able to prove that prehistoric men and women used herbs for medicinal reasons based on archaeological findings. One such instance, is in the El Sidron region of northwest Spain, where they found a number of Neanderthal teeth. When the teeth were studied in 2012, they found remains of plants that had been consumed by their owners. Among the plants found were yarrow and chamomile.

    So what, right? I don’t know what yarrow is, but who doesn’t enjoy a relaxing cup of chamomile tea?

    While, we may enjoy chamomile tea, the actual plant is very bitter, the same goes for yarrow. Neither would be eaten for taste, and there were much more nutritional options available. What these two plants did have was medicinal properties. As mentioned in my faux question, chamomile is a relaxant among other things. Yarrow, another plant with an awful taste, leaves the consumer with a feeling of well-being. Yarrow is also a known astringent, meaning it contracts tissue, this could be used to reduce bleeding.

    The regular consumption of these plants and others, such as orchid bulbs (relieves digestive problems) and willow bark (similar to Aspirin) show us that medicine has been around for tens of thousands of years.

    Aside from signs of digested and consumed medicinal plants, we have also discovered a primitive sort of first aid kit. Found frozen and incredibly well-preserved in the European Alps, was Otzi the Iceman, a human male from the Neolithic period. For those out of the loop, Otzi was found in 1991 on the Austrian and Italian border, he has since become one of the most studied archaeological specimens. Among his possessions were leather garments, tools, bark containers, and what must have passed as a medical kit.

    The kit contained lumps of fungus known to kill whipworm as well as other stomach bugs. Medical examination of Otzi showed signs of whipworm, once again pointing to earlier signs of medicine. Otzi also provides evidence that other forms of medicine were evident.

    Otzi had over 50 tattoos. These tattoos were made by rubbing charcoal into cuts in his skin. Theories on the location of these tattoos suggest that his was an early, primitive form of acupuncture. Some of the tattoos were located directly over joints and areas that were likely painful. During the medical examination, they discovered that Otzi suffered from bone and joint problems. In addition to the tattoos being applied over infected areas, many of them correspond with acupuncture channels.

    Other Forms of Medical Treatment:

    • Fractures and broken bones: Evidence has found that broken bones were forced back into place to heal properly. They have also discovered that casts were made with hardened clay or mud; splints were also used by binding wood or bone to the injured limb.
    • Wounds were dressed with healing herbs and applied with bandages.
    • Seizurescranial pressure, and possibly evil spirits were treated with trepanning. Trepanning was the surgical procedure of drilling a hole in the skull to relieve pressure. It was in practice until the 18th century when it was discontinued due to high mortality rates.
    • Some form of dentistry was even performed. This is based off a number of teeth that were found with holes drilled into them.

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