Prehistoric medicine

Notes about prehistoric medicine.

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  • Created by: Tallulah
  • Created on: 27-11-11 12:29

There is no written evidence from prehistory which makes it difficult to find out about thoughts, ideas and beliefs. The best source of evidence is archaeology but only about 5% remains and it is difficult to interpret. In 1958 the 5000 year old burial place of the Orkney tribe was discovered. There were 16,000 human bones but none of them were complete skeletons as they left their dead in the open so that the flesh could rot or be eaten by birds and then the bones were placed in the tombs.

Health: People were generally healthier than today as they lived an actvie outdoor life. People had strong leg muscles due to all the climbing they had to do to find food. There was hardly any tooth decay only about nine of 1,537 teeth had decay. Mens average height was 170cm and womens 161cm which is roughly the same height as people in the 1800s.

Life Span: Women had a much shorter life span than men, they lived till the ages 15-24; this was down to the strains of preganacy and childbirth, poor diets and demands of heavy physical work. The bones of women and children were often found together. Men very rarely lived to the age of 40 and the common age was 25-30.

Pain - People would have suffered a lot of pain as there were no forms of painkillers. The most common illness was osteoarthritis and this affected the adults as well as young children. Tooth abscesses were not as common but would of been extremely painful.

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Causes of death: Some people died of dieasese that couldn't be stopped from spreading and this was common amongst young people and babies as they didn't have a chance to develop a resistance to them. Another cause of death was infectins - these would of been everyday accidents such as a cut finger as this would lead to blood poisoning and death and it would be difficult to stop cuts from bleeding. Food shortages and famines was also a common cause of death and it weakened children and preganant women.

Beliefs: They believed that spirits were at the heart of everything. They believed that spirits had their own world and that every person had his own spirit and this explained why peole became sick. If your spirit left your body then you would become ill but also if an evil spirt enters your body you can also become ill. They used charms to ward off evil spirits and the charms would of been made from seeds, plants or parts of a human body.

Cures: Herbs were the main thing used to cure illnesses or injuries. An example is chickweed leaves which would of been used to treat ulcers or violets were used as an antiseptic. Trephining was also common and this involoved drilling a hole in the skull to release evil spirits or to reduce severe headaches.

Medicine men were important parts of a tribe as they could understand and deal with spirits. Women also treated illnesses and they were in charge of day to day health care.

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