September 19, 2012 [PRE-HISTORIC MEDICINE]
Once a society develops a writing/reading system, it is no longer considered pre-historic.
Questions to ask in a case study
1. What do you know?
We (the reader) are an archaeologist.
Where the remains have been found.
3 skeletons were found that had been dismembered and experienced head trauma (holes the size
of baseballs), surrounded by hand impressions and a painting of a half-man half-deer with
2. What do you not know?
Why the fingers are missing.
What the creature is.
What cause the hole in the scull.
Who was involved. Was it a form of torture? Was there conflict?
If there’s a story behind the antler painting. What does it symbolize?
When did it happen?
Whether or not the finding is actually pre-historic.
3. How can you find out?
Textual research of the geographical area.
Looking for similar cases in the past.
Examine the bones.
Have other discoveries similar to this been found?
Test the age of the sculls.
Handprints have been dated back to about 9000 years ago. The missing fingers could mean that
the people suffered from leprosy, cut off as a punishment, lost in war, etc.
The scull is a product of the process of drilling a hole into someone’s scull while they are still
alive; panning. However, we don’t know the why. At pre-historical burial sites, these cases have
been found in men and women (no children) with the entire body. They often have up to three
holes, indicating that they survived the first operation. What we don’t know is why they were cut
out or what the piece of skull was used for (an amulet, to relieve water build-up and tension, etc.).
We know that pre-historic people believed in spirits, and would depict these spirits on the walls.
Is this supposed to depict a medicine man, half-man half-animal, man dressed up as an animal,
None of these provide any proof of what is behind any of the findings. Archaeologists are faced
with complete uncertainty.
How do archaeologists study pre-historical/non-literate societies?
Paleopathology: The study of disease in human and animal remains of ancient times. September 19, 2012 [PRE-HISTORIC MEDICINE]
Paleopathologists and paleontologists use a multitude of sources to predict and better understand
their findings: primary and secondary sources.
Their primary sources consist of bones while secondary sources consist of art and materials found
at a burial site. There is an over-representation of bones in the evidence. This distorts our
understanding of the past.
They gain insights using archeological chemistry. It uses chemistry to analyze archaeological
findings. This includes carbon-14 dating, and can date anything up to 40 000 years ago.
They try to re-construct ancient cultures using conclusions made from findings at burial sights.
Bones themselves can be tricky in that they rarely tell us the cause of death. It can tell us patterns
of injury or act of violence, as well as mutilation and cannibalism. These scientists also study
great apes and monkeys in order to understand how living in a state of nature does not equal
freedom of decisions. These primates are found to have arthritis, malaria, hernias, infested by
parasites, and it is likely that our ancestors suffered these same diseases.
They also study mummified remains and preservation of soft-tissue. These bodies are found in
peat-bogs, and are believed to be from societies of the Iron Age. There is a degree of
preservation – skeletons to peat bodies.
From these preserved bodies, we can surmise various elements of their lifestyle: grain-based
diets, some suffered from gum disease, tuberculosis, and scoliosis, etc.
The Ice Man
Even older than the bog people was the Ice Man. Discovered in the Alps between the Swiss and
Italian border, he is the Earth’s oldest natural mummy, 30 000 years ago. The complete outer
epidermis was gone, but everything else was fairly well preserved. It is believed that he died of
extreme cold. His lungs were completely blackened, likely from inhaling smoke from campfires,
and had whip worm (parasite). Near his body were found two species of mushrooms that are
found in trees – one of the types is known as a birch fungus, which is known to have anti-
bacterial properties. He had the fungus with him to serve some form of medicinal purpose.
Preserved Organic Matter
Provides information about seasona