Past (Prehistoric; Ancient; Historical) Medical Knowledge & Techniques

Honey is bee sick, isn't it? I watched a program the other day which said it is the stuff they eat and regurgitate, to make honey. I love honey.
Yeah, I like eating sick too.
Honey is bee sick, isn't it? I watched a program the other day which said it is the stuff they eat and regurgitate, to make honey. I love honey.
Yes. I used to irritate my ex-wife by asking her to bring me or pass me the 'bee puke'.
Was that because you called it bee puke, or because you asked her to get it for you instead of getting it yourself? :p
Was that because you called it bee puke, or because you asked her to get it for you instead of getting it yourself? :p
She didn't mind bringing or passing it; she only rolled her eyes when I referred to it as bee puke.
The correct way to ask a wife to pass the honey is to do a waggle dance on the kitchen table incorporating a base 6 mathematical system to indicate the sun position relative to the jar using just your arse.
Presenting the arse would certainly a be thoughtful gesture.
This pushes the horizon for substantial medical intervention a lot farther back into the past ...

Recent discoveries at a megalithic site in Spain strongly indicate deliberate surgery was performed between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago. Furthermore, the evidence suggests the surgery was survived and led to healing before the patient's eventual death.
Gruesome Skull Discovery Contains The Earliest Evidence of Ear Surgery

An ancient skull uncovered at a 6,000-year-old megalithic monument in Spain still holds signs of what would have been a brutal ear surgery.

Archaeologists suspect the patient probably had a double-sided acute middle ear infection, which can cause earaches and fevers.

Without treatment, fluid can gather behind the eardrum, possibly causing a visible lump in the skull, hearing loss, or even life-threatening inflammation of the brain's outer membrane.

While now a common procedure, prior to the mid-19th century ear surgery was performed only in desperate attempts to save lives. Though some interpretations of ancient writings hint at surgical interventions as far back as the first century CE, solid evidence is hard to come by.

This gruesome skull discovery suggests similar procedures could have even been carried out thousands of years earlier. ...

However it happened, the surgery appears to have worked. The bones near both her ears show signs of deterioration, confirming an infection at some point, but they also show no signs of infection at the time of death. In fact, there was clear bone regeneration and remodeling, which is a common part of the healing process. ...
Here are the bibliographic details and abstract from the published research report. The full report is accessible at the link below.

Díaz-Navarro, S., Tejedor-Rodríguez, C., Arcusa-Magallón, H. et al.
The first otologic surgery in a skull from El Pendón site (Reinoso, Northern Spain)
Sci Rep 12, 2537 (2022).

Archaeological research in the Dolmen of El Pendón (Reinoso, Burgos, Spain) has brought to light the complex biography of a megalithic monument used throughout the 4th millennium cal. BC. The ossuary of this burial holds the bones of nearly a hundred individuals who suffered from diverse pathologies and injuries. This study presents the discovery of a skull with two bilateral perforations on both mastoid bones. These evidences point to a mastoidectomy, a surgical procedure possibly performed to relieve the pain this prehistoric individual may have suffered as a result of otitis media and mastoiditis. The hypothesis of surgical intervention is also supported by the presence of cut marks at the anterior edge of the trepanation made in the left ear. Furthermore, the results of this paper demonstrate the survival of the individual to both interventions. Given the chronology of this dolmen, this find would be the earliest surgical ear intervention in the history of mankind.

I think I'll stick to sour cherries and ground cinnamon for keeping gout at bay.

Curious medieval cures, including a treatment for gout that involved baking an owl then grinding it into a powder, are to be shared with the public online by Cambridge University Library.

Another unusual recipe, also intended to tackle gout, instructed readers to stuff a puppy with snails and sage royal then roast it over a fire, with the rendered fat used to make a salve.

More than 180 medieval manuscripts are to be digitised, catalogued and conserved over the next two years as part of the Curious Cures in Cambridge Libraries project. The manuscripts, containing around 8,000 unedited medical recipes, mostly date from the 14th or 15th centuries, with some examples from earlier, the oldest being 1,000 years old.
At the beginning of the last Ice Age, 31,000 years ago, a community in what’s now Eastern Indonesia buried a young person in the dry floor of a mountainside cave painted with handprints. The people lived on the edge of what was then a low continent called Sunda, and they were likely part of the same group of early seafarers who crossed to Australia. They were sophisticated in other ways, too: According to a description of the burial published today in the journal Nature, the young adult is the oldest human known to have survived a surgical amputation.

As Maloney and his team excavated the burial site, hoping to learn more about the people who had painted the cave at least 40,000 years ago, they noticed something odd: The skeleton was missing its left foot, while the delicate bones of the right foot were well-preserved. When they looked closer at the tip of the left leg, they saw that the tibia and fibula had been cut off, and the ends of the bone healed over.


When the researchers examined the tips of the bones, they didn’t find signs of an animal attack or rockfall, which would have left fracture or crush marks around the edges. The wound’s clean nature suggested that it had been made intentionally. Based on the age of the skeleton—about 19 at death—and the healed-over bone, the researchers believe that the surgery happened when the individual was a preteen, six to nine years before their death. Not only did they survive, but they managed to keep living in their rugged mountain home.

The surgeons had to control bleeding, either with pressure bandages, tourniquets, or cauterization. The researchers believe that the cut was made with stone tools, which, though fragile, can be incredibly sharp—obsidian scalpels are used in some specialized medical procedures even today.

Maybe most surprisingly, the bone showed no signs of infection in an environment where it’s hard to avoid—even the excavation team regularly dealt with infected cuts. The answer might have to do with knowledge of medicinal plants.

maximus otter
Last edited:
Here's the Live Science article on the Stone Age amputation discovery.
Oldest medical amputation on record was performed on a Stone Age child in Borneo 31,000 years ago

About 31,000 years ago, a skilled prehistoric surgeon cut off the lower leg of a child hunter-gatherer in Borneo. Now, archaeologists have concluded that this ancient surgery is the earliest medical amputation on record.

The skill of the Stone Age surgeon was admirable; the patient went on to live an additional six to nine years after the surgery, a radiocarbon dating performed by researchers of the individual's tooth enamel revealed ...

"It was a huge surprise that this ancient forager survived a very serious and life-threatening childhood operation, that the wound healed to form a stump and that they then lived for years in mountainous terrain with altered mobility," study co-author Melandri Vlok ... said in a statement. "[This suggests] a high degree of community care."

An international team of archaeologists discovered the youth's skeletal remains inside a limestone cave known as Liang Tebo on the Indonesian portion of Borneo during an archaeological excavation in 2020. The cave is remote, and accessible by boat only at certain times each year ...

The skeleton's lower leg, including the foot, were "removed through deliberate surgical amputation" and "tell-tale bony growths related to healing" suggest that the limb was surgically amputated, and not the result of an animal attack or some other tragic accident ... Archaeologists haven't determined why the child's leg had to be amputated. ...

Prior to this find, the earliest evidence of an amputation on a human involved a 7,000-year-old skeleton of an elderly male Stone Age farmer, whose left forearm had been surgically removed ...

Researchers did caution that it's too soon to tell if the Borneo operation was an isolated example of amputation or if surgeons performed similar, contemporary procedures on the island, elsewhere in Asia or even around the world. ...

"In light of the much younger age of these prior findings, the discovery of a 31,000-year-old amputee in Borneo clearly has major implications for our understanding of the history of medicine," study lead author Tim Maloney ... said in the statement.
Here are the bibliographic details and abstract for the published research report. The full report is accessible at the link below.

Maloney, T.R., Dilkes-Hall, I.E., Vlok, M. et al.
Surgical amputation of a limb 31,000 years ago in Borneo.
Nature (2022).

The prevailing view regarding the evolution of medicine is that the emergence of settled agricultural societies around 10,000 years ago (the Neolithic Revolution) gave rise to a host of health problems that had previously been unknown among non-sedentary foraging populations, stimulating the first major innovations in prehistoric medical practices1,2. Such changes included the development of more advanced surgical procedures, with the oldest known indication of an ‘operation’ formerly thought to have consisted of the skeletal remains of a European Neolithic farmer (found in Buthiers-Boulancourt, France) whose left forearm had been surgically removed and then partially healed3. Dating to around 7,000 years ago, this accepted case of amputation would have required comprehensive knowledge of human anatomy and considerable technical skill, and has thus been viewed as the earliest evidence of a complex medical act3. Here, however, we report the discovery of skeletal remains of a young individual from Borneo who had the distal third of their left lower leg surgically amputated, probably as a child, at least 31,000 years ago. The individual survived the procedure and lived for another 6–9 years, before their remains were intentionally buried in Liang Tebo cave, which is located in East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, in a limestone karst area that contains some of the world’s earliest dated rock art4. This unexpectedly early evidence of a successful limb amputation suggests that at least some modern human foraging groups in tropical Asia had developed sophisticated medical knowledge and skills long before the Neolithic farming transition.

Or, blind luck, that was the one person that made it or we have evidence of.

Agreed ... There were certain passages in the research paper that seemed (to me ... ) to be over-generalizing this one demonstrable case into a conclusion that amputations may well have been common practice and / or the medical capabilities of Neolithic folks were being inflated.
A gratuitous note about something I found satirically humorous ... The Live Science article included this illustration:


My ever-perverse mind wondered whether the artist and / or the authors meant to suggest that Neolithic development of lower extremity amputations explained why all those handprints began appearing on cave walls.

This is intriguing and slightly unnerving at the same time.

Obstetric Phantom, 18th century. The wood and leather model was used to teach medical students, and possibly midwives, about childbirth. It came from the Hospital del Ceppo in Pistoia, near Florence, founded in 1277. Photo: Science Museum.

Posted on Mastodon by:

Dr Lindsey Fitzharris @[email protected]