Early Medical Practices in the Neolithic Period

The objectives are to conduct a visual survey and then a targeted analysis looking for narcotic or other chemical traces, and to interpret the remains holistically including any new evidence found. Literature review There is a very extensive literature on the burial practices of Neolithic peoples, (Thomas, 1999) and indeed excavations of burial sites, especially in Egypt but also across Europe and in the Americas provide the largest sources of human bone material for analysis. The form of deposition human remains is, however, not without its problems because the bones are subjected to various processes ranging from burning, to de-fleshing, selected preservation of only parts of the body, and mummification. Various kinds of positioning in different types of ground leave traces on the bones which add layers of complication to scientific analysis. Incomplete samples survive, with uneven distribution due to geological rather than historical variation, which makes it difficult to form a complete picture. There are some Neolithic bone samples which show evidence of healing, but it is not certain that this is a result of medical intervention. The large number of trephined skulls found in Europe in Neolithic deposits, and somewhat later also in Peru, is however, incontrovertible evidence of medical activity (Ackerknecht, 1968, p. 8). McKenzie (1936, p. 895) theorizes that the purpose of scraping a hole in the skull was to cure giddiness or epilepsy but it is unclear what evidence can be drawn to point to this conclusion, other than that no trauma is evident in the bones, which could otherwise explain the hole. The Peruvian examples do show evidence of… This study is a great example of an investigation into Neolithic Doctoring practices via visual and chemical analysis. The Neolithic period from between 4000 and 2000 BC is widely recognised as being pivotal in human history because it marks the time when large populations of people shifted from a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a more settled existence dependent on agriculture as a major food source. Evidence for this has been gathered from several centuries of work in the field of archaeology. Often, however, the human artifacts do not provide complete answers to exploratory research questions, and so holistic techniques from the field of anthropology can be used to make sense of supplement sparse findings. The aim of the study is to explore the evidence in Neolithic skeletal remains in order to illuminate medical practices of this period.The majority of the material available from the Neolithic period consists of skeletal remains, and some work has been done on dental evidence and diet (Lubell et al., 1994). A combination of thorough visual examination and modern GC-MS testing of the bone material for chemical elements offers a new angle on medical practices because it will reveal both healing processes at work, and any potential use of medicinal narcotics. These testing techniques have been used on organic residues of 958 British prehistoric pots to trace dairy material and a similar method applied to Neolithic bone may bring to light significant information on medical practices of that time.