Prehistoric Medicine

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   aborigines      beliefs      bones      communicate      evidence      evil      Isbister      lived      logical      man      medicine      plants      records      skull      spirit      spirits      supernatural      trephinning      tribes      writing   

"Prehistoric" means the time before history was recorded in . It is therefore impossible to give dates for this period because prehistory lasted longer in some parts of the world than in others. It is also difficult to find out a lot about prehistoric medicine because there are no written and because most of prehistory was so long ago that other evidence is scarce. We do have the skeletal remains of some people which can give of deformities, broken bones and some diseases such as leprosy. We can also piece together some evidence of the way these people lived from sites such as . However, historians have to find other evidence to fill in the gaps. Some of this comes from evidence of prehistoric written by people from other civilisations who lived at the same time (e.g the Romans wrote about the Iron Age people of Britain). Also in some parts of the world, "prehistoric" people lived until very recently (e.g. some in Australia lived as Stone Age people until this century) and by looking at their and way of life, we can get some idea of those of prehistoric peoples long ago.

Prehistoric Medicine

Prehistoric medicine was a mixture of natural and beliefs.

"Natural" means that there is a explanation for the cause of the illness.

Prehistoric people could see how some injuries occurred and were able to cure cuts and set broken .

"Supernatural" means that there is not a logical explanation for the cause of the illness and so it is blamed on , gods or magic.

Most prehistoric seems to have been based on supernatural ideas.

Spirits and gods were seen as a cause of illness in all early civilisations. Aborigines believed that the world is inhabited by spirits and you could get ill if a entered your body (possibly through your open mouth when you were asleep!) or if your own spirit were enticed out of your body by an enemy. Aborigines relied on a medicine who could with the spirit world, find lost spirits and drive out evil ones. We have the evidence of cave paintings which probably show medicine men of a much earlier period.

Many prehistoric tribes also practiced , which was drilling a hole in the to let out an evil spirit (possibly causing severe headaches or recurrent fits). This operation would have been carried out using primitive tools such as flint knives and no anaesthetic. Lots of skulls with holes in (some with more than one hole) have been found. The regrowth of bone around the edge of some of the holes indicates that the person for some time after the operation was carried out. Pieces of bone removed from such skulls have also been found with holes in indicating that these were hung on a necklace, probably as a lucky charm. Aborigines used charms made from either the seeds of a plant or a part of the human body to ward off spirits too.

Through trial and error, prehistoric people also found out that certain were good for curing some illnesses, and this knowledge would have been passed down. These cures may have been considered as magic by some tribes.