Prehistoric people were hunter-gatherers. They lived in small groups and constantly moved around the country seeking out the best conditions for shelter and food supplies. In order to explain the many things in the world they could not otherwise understand, they believed in spirits. Prehistoric medicine
Medicine was extremely basic and what treatments there were reflected their close relationship to nature and their superstition about spirits. Though prehistoric people had very little idea of how the body worked treatments included:
* simple cures using medicinal herbs.
* setting broken limbs.
* blaming evil spirits for disease.
* employing 'medicine men' whom they believed wielded power over spirits. * practising trepanning to release evil spirits.
How do we know about what life was like so long ago?
There were no written records available at this time, so we have to rely on the findings of archaeologists. Archaeologists have studied skeletons from prehistoric times (including ones found individually and those found in large tombs) and well-preserved bodies found in peat bogs. Cave paintings can also give evidence of what life was like. The study of skeletons and preserved bodies can yield the following evidence: what sorts of diseases prehistoric people suffered from
what condition their bones and teeth were in
whether physical work or warfare caused death or deformity
what they ate for their last meal
how old they were when they died.
Archaeologists have found some evidence that suggests what the beliefs of prehistoric people were. Cave paintings give clues about what people thought caused some diseases. Other evidence, such as charms, provide further clues about these beliefs. To confirm their ideas, historians have talked to groups of people, such as some Aborigines in Australia, whose lifestyles have not changed for thousands of years. By examining their beliefs and practices we can get an insight into prehistoric life. Those Aborigines who still follow their traditional culture believe that everyone has their own spirit inside themselves. If a person becomes ill, it is because their spirit has left them, or an evil spirit has entered their body To get treatment, Aborigines go to a Medicine Man who knows all about spirits. He puts his patient into a trance by singing and chanting and then massages the sick area which releases the spirit and the patient is cured. Traditionally, Aborigines also wore charms to keep evil spirits away, and buried their cut-off nails and hair and their excrement, probably to prevent spirits casting spells on them. All through the history of medicine we find the use of herbal medicine to cure illness and disease, and the Aborigines are no exception. Many women treat their families with herbal remedies and use recipes handed down over thousands of years. Prehistoric people understood that some medical problems were the result of natural causes, and would treat the problems using natural remedies. For example, an open wound might be covered up.
When the causes of an ailment weren't understood, the problem was believed to have supernatural causes. For example, a fit would be thought to be caused by the body being possessed by a spirit. There was very limited use of surgery in prehistoric times. One amazing operation did take place. This was trepanning or trephining, which involved cutting a hole in the skull, possibly to release evil spirits which were causing illness. Archaeological evidence suggests that people did survive trepanning, although we don't know whether it had any positive effects. While medicine in prehistoric Britain and many other places were primitive, elsewhere in the world there were some countries which were highly civilized and advanced. The Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations all developed comfortable lifestyles, with an emphasis on hygiene and medical care.
The Ancient Egyptians were...
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