Prehistoric medicine (long)

  • Created by: Happydays
  • Created on: 11-06-14 11:44

What Is Prehistoric Medicine?

Prehistoric medicine refers to medicine before humans were are to read and write. It covers a vast period, which varies according to regions and cultures. Anthropologists, people who study the history of humanity, can only make calculated guesses at what prehistoric medicine was like by collecting and studying human remains and artifacts. They have sometimes extrapolated from observations of certain indigenous populations today and over the last hundred years whose lives have been isolated from other cultures.

People in prehistoric times would have believed in a combination of natural and supernatural causes and treatments for conditions and diseases. The practice of comparing a placebo effect with a given therapy did not exist. There may have been some trial and error in coming to some effective treatments, but they would not have taken into account several variables scientists factor in today, such as coincidence, lifestyle, family history, and the placebo effect.

Nobody can be absolutely certain what prehistoric peoples knew about how the human body works. However, we can make some calculated guesses, based on some limited evidence. There is evidence from their burial practices that they knew something about bone structure. Bones have been found that were stripped of the flesh, bleached and piled according to what part of the body they came from.

There is also archeological evidence of cannibalism among some of the prehistoric communities - so, they must have known about our inner organs and where lean tissue or fat predominates in the human body. Most likely, they believed that their lives were determined by spirits. Aboriginals peoples around the world today often correlate illness with losing one's soul.

The aboriginals in Australia were described by colonists as being able to stitch up wounds, and encased broken bones in mud to set them right. Medical historians believe these skills probably existed during prehistory. However, most evidence found in prehistoric graves shows healthy but badly set bones, indicating that they did not know how to set broken bones.

There was no concept of public health in prehistoric times

Homo habilis-2 (
Homo Habilis, who lived about 2.33 to
1.4 million years ago, probably the first
prehistoric humans to use tools. They were
hunter-gatherers and most likely suffered
many cuts and skin wounds

Public health focuses on preventing the spread of disease, good hygiene practices, the provision of water so that people can keep themselves, their animals and their homes clean. Medical historians are fairly sure that prehistoric peoples had no concept of public health. They tended to move around a lot and not remain in one place for long, therefore, there would have been no need or thought towards building public health infrastructure.

During pre-history, people were afflicted with ailments and diseases, just like we are today. However, because of very different lifestyles and lifespans, they did not suffer from the same diseases so commonly.

Below are some diseases and conditions which were probably very common in prehistoric times:

  • Osteoarthritis - many people had to lift and…


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