Prehistoric medicine

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  • It is difficult to be certain about prehistoric medicine because prehistoric people had no written language. Therefore, historians have to reply on deductions from archaeology and anthropology.
  • The evidence suggests that prehistoruc people had a simple dual approach, combining supernatural beliefs and natural methods.

Supernatural Beliefs

Prehistoric people were nomadic hunter-gatherers, living in small groups. Life was simple, and life expectancy was low. Belief in spirits helped explain the many natural phenomena they did not understand

  • Prehistoric people had little understanding of the causes of, and therefore cures for, illness.
  • So magic, religion and a belief in evil spirits played an important part in prehistoruc medicine. Prehistoric people consulted shamans or medicine men who tried to achieve 'cures'.
  • Shamans conducted rituals involving magic and charms either to cure or ward of illness. This was a form of faith or spiritual healing.

The most dramatic way in which belief in spirits influenced prehistoric medicine was related to the belief that people could be possessed by evil spirits.

  • The 'cure' for this was what is known as trephining (aka trepanning)-drilling or cutting a hole in the skull to allow the evil spirit to escape.
  • Although trephining was (and is) a difficult operation, the evidence shows that most prehistoric people survived this procedure.

Natural Cures



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