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GCSE History ­ Medicine Through Time Revision Notes
TOPIC 1 ­ PREHISTORY Prehistory is the time before written records!
Background Information
Prehistoric man lived in nomadic lives
They were hunter-gathers, they didn't grow crops
They left no written records, historians rely on archaeological evidence which may be hard to interpret
One way round the problem of evidence for prehistoric medicine is to study people who, until very
recently, lived in a similar way to prehistoric man. For example, Australian aborigines and Plains Indians
What did prehistoric people die from?
Warfare
Pregnancy and childbirth
Infection
Famine and food shortages
Using aboriginal cultures to find out about prehistoric medicine
Attitudes and practises of modern aborigines are used in guessing what ancient people did.
Some modern aboriginal medicine combines basic practical methods like settle broken bones and
bandaging with spiritual explanations of illness and cure.
Witch doctors, shamans and medicine men are credited with the ability to cure and inflict illness.
Warding off evil is practised as well as driving off the evil. Rituals are often involved. Rituals involved
herbs, potions and techniques of practical value ­ but seen as magic rather than medicine.
Natural Beliefs and Treatments
Trephining is the cutting of holes in people's heads. Skulls show that people survived the operation
because the bone continued to grow afterwards. It may have been to allow evil spirits out or to grant
special powers of communication with the spirit world.
There were two types of healers, Medicine Men and women. Medicine Men were important people in
prehistoric tribes, as they could deal with spirits.
Women were in charge of everyday health and knew about the healing power of herbs. For every day
ailments and injuries with an obvious cause, they had a range of simple, effective remedies based on
observation and common sense.
Supernatural Beliefs and Treatments
Prehistoric people thought that everyone own their own spirit and these explained why you became ill.
You may feel ill if your spirit had been removed from your body or if an evil spirit had entered your body
whilst you were sleeping.
Prehistoric man wore lucky charms to keep away evil spirits and to stay free from disease.
If you became ill, Medicine Men would try to find your stolen spirit by hunting for the pointing stick which
removed your spirit. When they found it, they would throw it into water to set the spirit free.
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GCSE History ­ Medicine Through Time Revision Notes
TOPIC 2 ­ ANCIENT EGYPT
Ancient Egyptian Society
The Egyptian civilisation was an agricultural one that spread in a narrow band along the River Nile. Every
year the Nile floods fertilised the fields and the river provided water for irrigation.
Successful agriculture provided spare food so more people were doctors, priests and other professionals.
More trade and communication ­ ships imported new herbs and plants, which were used as medicines.…read more

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GCSE History ­ Medicine Through Time Revision Notes
In the Egyptian climate this would have made life more comfortable, but hygiene also appears to have had
a religious significance ­ priests washed more often than others.…read more

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GCSE History ­ Medicine Through Time Revision Notes
Healthy Living
The Ancient Greeks believed that to be healthy they needed to exercise.
Hygiene was important, with emphasis placed on washing.
Diet was also thought to be important. Many Ancient Greeks followed a diet that changed with the
seasons ­ eating lots in winter, but drinking little ­ while in the summer drinking more and eating less.…read more

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GCSE History ­ Medicine Through Time Revision Notes
Public Health
Noticed that bad smells, unclean drinking water, sewage, swamps and dirt made people become ill.
They build aqueducts to carry clean water into cities.
They also built public baths, toilets and sewers to remove waste.
Ideas about public health spread around their huge empire.
Claudius Galen ­ He wrote 60 medical books!
Galen was a Greek physician. Like Hippocrates, he believed that illness was caused by imbalances of the
four humours.…read more

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GCSE History ­ Medicine Through Time Revision Notes
TOPIC 5 ­ MEDIEVAL
Background Information
Wars destroyed the Roman public health systems and medical libraries.
The rulers of the small kingdoms built up armies rather than improving medical skills or public health.
War disrupted trade so countries became poorer.
Travel became more dangerous, reducing the communication between doctors.
Training of doctors was abandoned. Copies of Galen's books were either lost, or hidden away for safety .
HOWEVER, LATER...…read more

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GCSE History ­ Medicine Through Time Revision Notes
The Four Humours Theory
Medieval doctors believed illness was caused by an imbalance of the four humours.
The theory developed into a more complex system, based on the position of the stars.
Although human dissection was carried out in medical schools, findings were interpreted as the theory of
the four humours ­ although some later doctors began to challenge traditional understandings.
New Developments in Medieval Medicine
More schools sprang up and human dissection was allowed.…read more

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GCSE History ­ Medicine Through Time Revision Notes
Quick Summary of Medieval Medicine.
Doctors followed the ideas of Galen. They believed illness was caused by an imbalance in humours.
Believed that God and the Devil influen ced health. Disease was seen as God's punishment for sins.
Astrology became important. Doctors studied star charts because they believed that the movement of the
planets affected people's health.
TOPIC 6 ­ RENAISSANCE
Background to the Renaissance
Renaissance means rebirth.…read more

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GCSE History ­ Medicine Through Time Revision Notes
The Great Plague of 1665
This was the worst of the reappearances of the Black Death. The death toll in London was about 100 000.
Efforts were made to control the spread of disease. Households were locked in and red crosses were
painted on their doors with the words, "Lord have mercy upon us.…read more

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GCSE History ­ Medicine Through Time Revision Notes
Edward Jenner
Jenner was a country doctor. He heard that milkmaids didn't get smallpox, but instead a milder cowpox.
Jenner investigated and discovered people who had already had cowpox didn't get smallpox.
In 1796 he took a small boy and injected him with pus from the sores of a milkmaid with cowpox. Jenner
then injected James with smallpox. James didn't catch the disease!
Opposition to the Smallpox Vaccination
Jenner could not scientifically explain how it worked.…read more

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