Prehistoric Medicine

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Prehistoric medicine

Prehistoric medicine refers to use of medicine before humans were are to read and write. Because the timing of the invention of writing varies per culture and region, the term ” prehistoric medicine “ encompasses a wide range of time periods and dates. 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.

History of medicine is related with the beginning of human beings. No documentary writings and evidences with respect to medical thoughts are available, except certain drawings and specimens that have survived from Stone Age.( old Stone Age or Paleolithic period about 25 to 40 thousand years ago and new Stone Age or Neolithic period about 20 thousand years ago ) A drawing on the wall of the Trois Frères cave in Pyrenees is the portrait probably of an oldest medical man.

Early evidence of Prehistoric Medicine

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:


many people had to lift and carry large and heavy object frequently. According to archeological remains, osteoarthritis was common.

Micro-fractures of the spine and spondylolysis

large rocks were commonly dragged over long distances.

Hyper-extension and torque of the lower back

caused by the transport and raising of massive rocks and stones, such as Latte Stones.

Infections and complications

people were hunter gatherers and were much more likely to suffer cuts, bruises and bone fractures. There were no knowledge of bacteria, viruses, funguses. Additionally, other harmful pathogens and the impact of good hygiene practices in preventing infection complications. Infections were much more likely to become serious and life-threatening. While contagious diseases used to spread rapidly and turn into epidemics easily.


anthropologists have evidence that rickets was widespread throughout most prehistoric communities, probably due to low vitamin D levels.

Life expectancy

this ranged from about 25 to 40 years, depending on regions and per-historic periods. People would have been much more susceptible to the ravages of nature. For example; a decade-long cold period (or longer), droughts, floods, and diseases which killed off large numbers of their food sources. Men lived longer than women, probably because males were the hunters. They would have had access to their kills before the women, and possibly suffered less from malnutrition.

The human body has also been constantly subject to assault and injury, invasion by parasites, extremes of heat and cold, and infections. Early man probably suffered from a number of diseases due to nutritional factors and body chemistry disorders.

Diseases that may date back more than 25 million years to the ape ancestors of modern apes and man are amoebic dysentery, malaria, pinworm infections, syphilis, yaws, and yellow fever.

Origin of Art of Surgery

But moderate wounds, bruises, fractures, or foreign bodies such as arrowheads or thorns demanded attention. Thus the art of surgery must first have originated as a response to immediate crises. The first and most obvious course of action of a wounded man would be to protect the site of injury from the influence of external forces or agents. For this there was, and remains to this day, only one means – the application of a dressing. It believe that the art of dressing wounds long constituted the whole of medicine.

Every culture that existed in the world had developed a system of medicine. Diseases view as a result of malevolent influences exercised by God or supernatural being or another human being alive or dead. The method of rudimentary healing was not base on logic and scientific data but on belief and crude methods of transference of evil spirits. Additionally, using certain methods like herbs or animal extracts. Which was the monopoly of certain group of people. Another predominant thought that disease cause by a stone chip, wood piece or bone splinter introduced into the body by an evil spirit. So treatment consisted of removing that piece from the body.
The problem of death was thought as a punishment for man’s disobedience.

Cause of diseases

The cause of diseases was attributed to:


Method of treatment

Hence the method of treatment was aimed at
1. Pleasing the God by offering prayers, rituals, and sacrifice
2. Driving out of the evil spirits from the body

Magic and religion played a large part in the medicine of prehistoric or early man. This era intermingle with superstition, witchcraft and religion. Administration of a vegetable drug or remedy by mouth was accompanied by incantations, dancing, grimaces, and all the tricks of the magician. Hence, the first doctors, or “medicine men,” were witch doctors. The use of charms and talismans, still prevalent in modern times, is of ancient origin. The physicians call as “MAGICIANS“. Priests had a major role in the practice of medicine. They were in charge of both soul and body of human being. They used stone instruments for amputation, circumcision and triphoning. Physical purity consider as complimentary to moral purity.

Folk medicine

Study of folk medicine reveals many curious beliefs and creeds. The skin of snake, patella of sheep, the nail of coffin etc. use as charms. Another important aspect was putting up colored hangings in the sick room to prevent small-pox, red flannel used to prevent sore throat. In detail, to wear red thread with nine knots to prevent nose bleeding.

It seems probable that humans, as soon as they had reached the stage of reasoning, discovered, by the process of trial and error. Which plants might use as foods, which of them were poisonous, and which of them had some medicinal value. Folk medicine consisted largely in the use of vegetable products, or herbs and persists to this day.

Common maladies, such as colds or constipation, were accepted as part of existence and dealt with by means of such herbal remedies. Serious and disabling diseases place in a different category – supernatural origin. They might the result of a spell cast upon the victim by some enemy, visitation by a malevolent demon. Or the work of an offended god who had either projected some object – a dart, a stone, a worm – into the body of the victim or had abstracted something. usually the soul of the patient. The treatment then applied was to lure the errant soul back to its proper habitat within the body or to extract the evil intruder, it dart or demon, by counter spells, incantations, potions, suction, or other means.


One curious method of providing the disease with means of escape from the body was by making a hole, 2.5 – 5 cm, in the skull of the victim – the practice of trepanning, or trephining. This can do using flint instruments, either by gradually scratching through the skin and bones of the skull, getting gradually deeper and deeper, or by drilling a series of small holes in a circle in the skull. Then cutting the small bridges between to remove a disk of bone.

Skulls have found with multiple holes. The additional fact that some hole edges show callus formation (evidence of healing) indicates survival of the patient. Trephined skulls have found in Western Europe, including England, North Africa, Asia, the East Indies, New Zealand, and the Americas from Alaska in the north down through the continent to Peru in the south. The practice probably regarded as therapeutic, either to remove a depressed fracture, to try to cure mental illness, or to relieve severe headache or epilepsy, presumably by letting out the demon possessing the patient.

Apart from the treatment of wounds and broken bones. The folklore of medicine is probably the most ancient aspect of the art of healing. For rudimentary physicians showed their wisdom by treating the whole person, soul as well as body.

Correlation of concepts of Medicine in the Era with the relevant Homoeopathic concepts:

The concepts of man and medicine prevalent in this era were analogous. With some of the most basic concepts of Homoeopathy.
The application of empiricism in the practice of medicine evolved in this era. Probably because present historic man was not very observant of the universal laws of nature. Dr. Hahnemann struggled his whole life against the principle of empiricism. Additionally, finally succeeded in establishing the system of Homoeopathy as a living application of nature’ s eternal law of cure. He was opponent of the use of crude methods of healing like blood letting and trephining. In detail, made it very clear in the introduction to the 6th edition of Organon of Medicine.

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