The Best And Worst Medical Treatments Of Ancient History
Nostalgia is a natural human emotion. When we look back it’s perfectly normal to imagine things were better in the past than we are now. Kids respected their elders, music really meant something, the porn was more tasteful.
But there are some things that you just have to admit were rubbish in the past. For instance, when you do finally complete your time machine I very much doubt that you’ll be nipping back for the great healthcare (although it’s possible we may find visitors from the future materialising to enjoy the last, great days of the NHS).
Yet surprisingly, despite the bloodletting, the fact that you get your hair cut and your legs amputated by the same guy, and the fact that “being a woman who talks too much” was considered a medical condition, in some areas the surgeons of history were surprisingly on the ball…
Iron Age Doctors Could Fix Your Cataracts
Eyesight was pretty important in the ancient world. Our caveman ancestors needed to tell the difference between a mammoth that was really far away, or a sabre tooth tiger that was right in front of them. But even if your eyesight was the best, and you managed to live to old age (which by 1,000 BC was something you could generally only achieve by being one of the main characters in the Bible), you’d be rewarded with cataracts, where your lenses clouded over so that it seemed like you were living in a flashback scene in a romantic movie.
This is the sort of thing modern man combats using a “thin ultrasound probe”, which is every bit as space aged and high tech as it sounds.
But around the time David was kicking it as King of the Israelites, a doctor in India was working out how to solve the cloudy problem of cataracts using a needle and some naan bread. He would literally loosen your lens with the needle and poke the cataract out of your field of vision, then soak your eye in warm butter and bandage it with a piece of naan bread.
Democritus, considered by many to be the father of modern science, and Pythagorus, lover of triangles, came all the way to India to see this surgery performed. Yet for some reason the eye-poking craze didn’t spread to the rest of Europe.
People Were Performing Brain Surgery Around the Time Stonehenge Was Built
When I say “4,000 year old brain surgery” you’re probably thinking of somebody getting hit on the head with a club until their brain starts working again. You might know about a process called trepanning that involves drilling a hole into somebody’s brain, and write it off as one of those crazy things people liked to do like putting leaches on things and burning witches.
Yet archaeologists have found a 4,000 year old skull in Turkey that shows not only were they surgically putting holes in people’s skulls back then, but that people were surviving the ordeal. The one by two inch crack through skull had seen tissue regrow over it. Dead people don’t heal so well, so this person must have survived the surgery.
The holes were uniformed and precise, despite being performed with an obsidian rock. The surgery could have been performed to prevent pressure build up when somebody suffered a brain injury, and it seems like at least sometimes it did the trick.
Then Again, Victorians Tried to Cure Impotence by Electrocuting Your Balls
While our Stone and Iron Age ancestors were apparently way more proficient in Medicine than we thought, in the last hundred years or so we’ve also done some really quite stupid things. If you’re feeling embarrassed about ordering Viagra from that spam email, don’t worry, that is far from the dumbest thing anyone has ever done to cure a case of the flacids.
Basically, by the end of the 19th century people used the word “electricity” the way dumb marketing execs use the word “social media” today- there was literally no problem they didn’t think could be solved by putting electricity in it. Thus the market saw a smorgasbord of electric beds, electric belts and other devices claiming they could restore your “male power” by shooting it full of lightening.
Cavemen could have told the Victorians that was a bad idea.
Chris Farnell is a freelance writer and blogger who writes for Locum Jobs. His time machine is nearly complete.