• Imagining History

Top Stone Age Medicine Trivia to Teach Your Key Stage 2 Class

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

Tackling the Stone Age in the class room can be a tricky endeavour. There are a number of reasons for this; the vast scope of the era, no written records, and no charismatic individual personalities to make the subject matter more relatable for learners. Sure, you’ve got the basics covered, the three main eras, agriculture, stone tools, and hunting, but where can you find the attention grabbing trivia that will hook your students? By looking at healthcare, medicine and surgery during the Stone Age. And don’t worry my friend, we have you covered. Let Imagining History Workshops regale you with some fascinating, weird and just plain brilliant Stone Age Trivia to share with your students.

Trepanning Anyone?

Prehistoric medicine was not exactly a success story. Heck, for most of human history we’ve had little to no idea over how our body and mind function, let alone any clue about how to actually fix them. That’s not to say that people in the Stone Age didn’t try to heal members of their tribe however, far from it. In fact, they were incredibly enthusiastic in their pursuit to save the ill and injured, and in some cases were surprisingly effective at it.

First of all; the basics. Cuts and broken bones were all fairly manageable. Cuts could have moss applied to dry a wound. If the wound became infected then just whack some wriggly maggots in there; our slimy pals are simply amazing at eating away the infected flesh. Pots made from dried mud were wrapped around broken limbs, providing the leg, arm or big toe the support it needed to heal correctly.

Herbs and mosses were also used to reduce illness. Otzi the Iceman (a well preserved naturally occurring mummy of a man who died over 5000 years ago in the Ötztal Alps) was found to have six different types of moss in his ancient stomach. Some of these had medicinal qualities, one - Sphagnum Imbricatum – is even a natural antiseptic. It looked like Otzi was trying to self-medicate, just rather than popping down the shops for some Paracetamol he was munching on some moss instead!

It wasn’t just Otzi either, an 8,000 year old pottery cauldron found in Zhejiang Province contained traces of boiled medicinal herbs in its base. Curing ailments with naturally occurring medicine could well have been common place in the Stone Age.

Then there was Trepanning, nothing like a bit of gore to liven up Stone Age learning! The theory is that Prehistoric people believed that the human body could be afflicted by evil spirits. So, for example, a mental illness would be caused by an ill-behaved spook up to no good. To fix this problem a wannabe brain surgeon had to go full on Ghost Buster and create a hole in the patient’s head to get the evil spirit out. To this end a hole was drilled in the patient’s skull.

Now, when I imagine Trepanning it usually involves some wild eyed witch-doctor whacking away with a big sharp rock at some poor sap’s bonce. This, though, is unlikely to have occurred. Instead, the area of the skull would be gradually scraped away at in tiny circles to create a hole. Actually, I’m not sure which method is worse. Could you even imagine someone scrapping away at your skull for several minutes, maybe even hours, to create the necessary hole? It’s definitely unlikely that anyone would be complaining of a headache in the Stone Age – just in case the local Brain Surgeon started getting any ideas!

What is truly astonishing however, is that trepanning often worked. There are numerous fossils of patients who had an extra ear hole drilled in their brain box go on to survive the procedure as their skull had begun to heal – what a relief!


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