Saturday, February 1, 2014

200,000 years ago: the dawn of caring

Modern humans are called homo sapiens sapiens, and started to appear in Africa around 200,000 years ago, and around 100,000 years ago they migrated out of Africa.  These men and women were even more human-like than the homo habilis, homo erectis, and home sapiens who lived before them.  Homo Sapiens Sapiens had better bodies for walking long distances, and they ventured to various places of the earth where food was most plentiful. In the process they created better tools as a means of adjusting to new environments and different kinds of wild game. (1, page 66)(3)

Patricia Netzley explained in her 1998 book, "World History Series: The Stone Age," that:
These new hominids lacked the projected facial features of the Neandertal, and their bodies were taller and less robust; in appearance, they were quite close to today's humans. Longer legs gave them the ability to travel longer distances, which meant that they came in contact with many other tribes of people.  This exposure to other cultures and ideas may be the source of their greater creativity, in comparison to their ancestors. (1, page 66)
She explains that early home sapiens sapiens, sometimes referred to as cro magnum, made a "wide variety of tools" compared to their ancestors. They were able to put their minds together to utilize rock, bone, antlers, ivory, and wood. They were able to use various materials from animals and plants to connect sharp rocks to make the following weapons: (1, page 66-67)
  • Saws
  • Chisels
  • Knives
  • Flint axes
  • Wooden axes
  • Spears
  • Bows
  • Arrows
They were even able to use thin pieces of bone as needles to sew pieces of hide together in order to make clothing and materials to build crude homes. They worked together using these tools and fire to hunt for larger game, such as the Woolly Mammoth. And of course they ate all the meat, sucked all the marrow from the bones, and used what was left over to experiment. The made ornaments and beads to adorn their bodies, clothing, homes and burial sites. They even made fences of ivory. (1, page 70-79)

They probably had a language as well, communicating both by their art and their words. They painted crude drawings in color on the walls of caves, and these would have been available for new generations to learn from. They also must have had a verbal language so they could share ideas, plan hunts, and relay knowledge of myths, religions, tradition, and recipes of food and medicine.   (1, page 70-79)

Surely they had medicine (although there is no evidence of this, as I noted in the introduction). It may have been crude, but any form of help they provided to the sick and injured would have been medicine. Perhaps they helped a man with one leg walk, or provided sympathy for the old man who was short of breath, or the boy suffering from the flu. They probably experimented with herbs, perhaps at first to find new foods. Although their poisonous and healing properties would have been learned and shared.

Better yet, perhaps they experimented with magical words in an attempt to expectorate whatever poisons the spirits or demons put into your friend. Since prehistoric man would have no concept of the inner workings of the body, they would have no concept of internal diseases. So they would rationalize the only way they could, and this was to use their imaginations.

They mourned the dead, and then they had dreams where a dead relative appeared.  So they came to the conclusion that people have souls that live on as spirits after death.  These spirits watch over the clan or family.  Like people these spirits must be fed, so the living made sacrifices and created words to appease the spirits.  However, when the spirits weren't satisfied, they caused disease.  Or, if one member of the clan or family did something that was considered a sin -- had a bad thought, perhaps, that person was inflicted with a poison. (5, page 131)

As humans do today, these early humans felt pain when they stepped on a sharp twig or rock, and they felt winded and irritable when they picked up germs that caused colds.  They suffered the side effects of ailments like asthma, allergies, and bronchitis, and they yearned for further understanding. It's highly probably these diseases weren't present in the lower paleolithic era, although it's likely people still got short of breath due to airway inflammation caused by infections, or by heart failure, or kidney failure, or some other ailment.

At first men and women were only concerned with themselves, yet as these early human's spent more time together, perhaps at first simply taking care of their children, they learned to love and have empathy.  At some point a woman saw her son step on a twig, and she must have known it hurt by her own personal experience.  So she did what she could to help the child.  She pulled out the thorn, and she massaged the wound, perhaps even rubbed mud or water on it to allay the pain.  Or, at the very least, she provided a shoulder for the boy to lean on.  (5, page 115-116)

She also remembered from her childhood when her mom and dad and brother died.  She remembered feeling sad.  She remembered the bad feelings when she realized for the first time the world is a gloomy place.  The ghosts or spirits of the dead were looming all over, and they had the ability to allow you to get sick or even to die.  Many times they let good people get sick and die, people who did not sin.  It was an unfair world.  And so she provided a soothing shoulder, and perhaps soothing words, to her son when he was old enough to come to this same realization.

Yet it also must be realized, however, that prehistoric men and women did not live their entire lives in fear of the spirits, demons or gods that were ever present.  They did not fear them any more than you or I fear the viruses and bacteria that are ever present in our world.  Sure we know they are there, and surely we respect them, but we do not live in fear every day.  We take precautions.  We wash our hand, and we brush our teeth, and we take baths.  We are careful who we come into contact with.  (5, page 442)

In this same way, prehistoric men and women took precautions.  They made sure not to have impure thoughts, and they made sure to teach the same to their children.  They made sure not to take things that don't belong to them, and to take care of the natural resources they were allowed to live among.  They made sure to take care of the sick who were living, and they also learned to feed and nurture the spirits, demons and gods.  They created words to appease them, and these would become the first incantations and prayers.  In this way men and women learned to have empathy, and they learned about the importance of caring.

This mom burned her hand, perhaps, in the fire when she was a child, and she remembered how she found relief when she stuck her hands in the mud.  And so when her son burned himself, she found some mud, scooped it up into her cupped palm, and she took it to the boy, and rubbed it onto his burn.  This was, perhaps, the first form of medicine.

Perhaps when she was a child she loved figs, one day she was amid an ample supply and she ate too many.  She got a stomach ache and she threw up the figs.  She felt miserable for the entire day, and her mother comforted her by rubbing the base of her back.  So when she was a mother herself, she told her son not to eat too many figs. Or, perhaps, she watched her son eat poison berries, and she thought that if she didn't do something he would die.  So she gave her son figs, lots and lots of figs.  She sat by him while made him eat them until he puked.  Her son did not die.  So the poisonous quality of eating too much figs now became a remedy.  (5, page 114-115)

Primitive people, more appropriately termed prehistoric or savage people, were "puzzled if not awed by the rustling of leaves in the forest, the crash and flash of thunder and lightning, the flicker and play of sunlight and firelight, and he could see no causal relation between a natural object and its moving shadow, a sound and its echo, flowing water and the reflections on its surface. Winds, clouds, storms, earthquakes, and other sights and sounds in nature were to him the outward and visible signs of malevolent gods, demons, spirits, or other supernatural agencies. The natural was to him the supernatural, as it still is to many of us," according to Fielding Hudson Garrison in his 1921 history of medicine. (4, page 21)

He continues:
"He therefore worshiped the sun, the moon, the stars, trees, rivers, springs, fire, winds, and even serpents, cats, dogs, apes, and oxen; and, as he came to set up carved stocks and stones to represent these, he passed from nature worship to fetish-worship. Even in his artistic productions, the savage is at first animistic and ideographic, tends to vitalize inanimate objects, and aims at the portrayal of action and movement rather than perfection of form.  Disease, in particular, he was prone to regard at first as an evil spirit or the work of such a spirit, to be placated or cajoled, as with other deities, by burnt offerings and sacrifice. A further association of ideas led him to regard disease as something produced by a human enemy possessing supernatural powers, which he aimed to ward off by appropriate spells and sorcery, similar to those employed by the enemy himself. Again, his own reflection in water, his shadow in the sunlight, what he saw in dreams, or in an occasional nightmare from gluttony, suggested the existence of a spirit-world apart from his daily life and of a soul apart from his body, and in this way he hit upon a third way of looking at disease as the work of offended spirits of the dead, whether of men, animals, or plants." (4, page 21-22)
We can only assume that one early human suffered from asthma, or at the very least from asthma-like symptoms.  Sometimes the symptoms went away in time, and sometimes they lingered until death occurred.  Since men and women are empathetic, they yearned to help in any way they could.  This brings us to around 30,000 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, a time many speculate was the dawn of medicine.

  1. Netzley, Patricia D, "World History Series: The Stone Age," 1998, San Diego, CA, Lucent Books 
  2. Roberts, J.M., "The illustrated History of the World: Prehistory and the first civilizations: volume I," 1999, New York, Oxford University Press 
  3. "Neanderthal: Their bodies were well equopped to cope with the ice age, so why did the Neanderthals die out when it ended,", Science and Nature,, accessed 4/4/13 
  4. Garrison, Fielding Hudson, "An Introduction to the history of medicine," 1922, 3rd edition, Philadelphia and London, W.B. Saunders Company 
  5. Sigerist, Henry E "History of Medicine," volume I: Primitive and Archaic Medicine, 1951, New York, Oxford University Press

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