Black People Invented healthcare
We can presume that the most common medical problems in the prehistoric world weren’t those that are commonly associated with today’s toxic diets and environment, so what could have our primary medical concerns been? Injuries like open wounds and broken bones were probably common, followed by complications in childbirth and inherited genetic disorders. Despite our advanced ecological knowledge, we probably had more than a few run-ins with poisonous plants and venomous creatures.
While the Egyptian “fire drill” sounds absolutely amazing, cauterization of wounds wasn’t isolated knowledge. A number of Asian tribes ignited a mix of saltpeter and sulfur on open wounds to cauterize them. Healers in Africa (including ancient Egypt), India and South America used termites, leeches, Siafu ants, or scarab beetles to close wounds without stitches.[i]
When those methods weren’t adequate for closing wounds, we had other approaches. Alongside flint tools, archaeologists have found delicate Stone Age “needles” over 30,000 years old, constructed from bone or ivory with eyeholes punched at the ends.[ii] They appear to have been used to suture cuts with thread fashioned from plant fibers or animal sinew.[iii] The African Maasai used needles of acacia for the same purpose, while Native Americans used the agave plant to produce both the needle and the “thread.”
Another indigenous practice for closing wounds involved the use of spiderwebs. Spider silk is known for both its great strength and infection-fighting properties,[iv] and is still used in many Black and brown communities today as a natural “band-aid.” In 2006, MSNBC reported that scientists were looking into using spiderwebs as a more effective method for treating torn ACL ligaments in knee injuries.[v] Spider-webs weren’t the only infection-fighter available to indigenous people. One of the most common antibiotic/anti-inflammatory agents used by ancient people like the Egyptians is something you probably keep in your kitchen cabinet today: honey.
Beyond honey, you know we had literally thousands of herbal remedies and natural treatments for minor ailments. So much so that we dedicated a few articles to the topic in The Hood Health Handbook.
Don’t think prehistoric surgery stopped at closing up cuts and tears. Many of early scrapes involved broken bones as well. Evidence suggests that prehistoric people would reset bones and then coat the affected limb in mud or clay which would harden and give the limb time to heal.[vi] We’re not sure if friends and family wrote all over these prehistoric casts, but I wouldn’t doubt it. In badly broken bones, indigenous people like the Aztecs used a technique known as medullary fixation (a technique not developed in the Western world until the 20th century).
It’s also apparent we were comfortable with the practice of amputating limbs we couldn’t save. An excavation of a 6,900-year-old tomb at Butheirs-Boulancourt, France, revealed a man with an amputated forearm. According to the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research, the patient seemed to haven been anesthetized, the conditions were aseptic, the cut (through skin, muscle, and bone) was clean and the wound was treated properly to avoid infection.
Scientists believe that all this was done using stone tools (most likely flint) and plant compounds. The culture that conducted this operation belonged to one of the Black hunter-gatherer cultures that originally canvassed Europe. 20,000 years before them, their ancestors appear to have conducted amputations as well. Some Aurignacian cave paintings of human hands show missing fingers, which Dr. Paul Jenssens has explained as evidence of prehistoric amputation and subsequent healing.[vii]
We know these are originally Black traditions. In later times, the ancient Egyptians used prosthetics to replace missing digits (See the image of a wood and leather prosthetic toe used by an amputee to facilitate walking). And the first recorded instance of amputations and prosthetic replacement appears in the Indian Rig-Veda (compiled between 3,500 and 1,500 BC), which records that the leg of Queen Vishpla was amputated in battle and replaced with a prosthetic leg.[viii]
[i] W. J. Bishop. (1960). The early history of Surgery. Hale.
[ii] University of Colorado Boulder. (2002). “Excavations in Eastern Europe Reveal Ancient Human Lifestyles.” www.colorado.edu/news/r/b278a670675fd8d2ca0700cdc0e9d808.html
[iii] “America’s Stone Age Explorers” PBS. www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/stoneage/tool-nf.html
[iv] “Secrets of the Spider Web,” (2007). The Royal College of Surgeons of England. www.rcseng.ac.uk/media/docs/spiderweb
[v] Spider Webs Could Help Treat Injured Knees,” (2006). NBC News. www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15253292/ns/health-livescience/t/spider-webs-could-help-treat-injured-knees/
[vi] Fabrizio Benedetti, (2011). The Patient’s Brain: The Neuroscience behind the Doctor-Patient Relationship, Oxford University Press.
[vii] Paul A. Janssens, (1957). “Medical Views on Prehistoric Representations of Human Hands,” Med Hist. 1, no. 4: 318–322. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1034309
[viii] Earl E. Vanderwerker, (1976). “A Brief Review of the History of Amputations and Prostheses,” ICIB 15, no. 5: 15-16. www.acpoc.org/library/1976_05_015.asp