Thursday, January 30, 2014

Shadows on the Trail Trilogy - Healing Practices for Paleoindians

Figure 1 - A depiction of a prehistoric hunter using an atlatl or spear thrower.
      As I sit and write my latest posting for the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy blog, I am fighting a severe cold. My head is congested and my throat is scratchy. My nose is running like a faucet and I am coughing constantly, trying to clear my lungs. In the bathroom, I have my over-the-counter medications lined up, everything from vitamins to severe cold medicine to cough drops. If my over-the-counter medications do not work on this cold, I can always be at my doctor’s office at a drop of a hat.   
     In our society, we are accustomed to going to the drugstore when we are sick or going to the doctor if our illness or ailment is serious. But, what did prehistoric people do some 10,700 years ago when the Shadows of the Trail Trilogy took place? What illnesses and injuries were common at the end of the Ice Age and how did they treat them?     
Figure 2 - Click to Order Ghosts of the Heart
    While writing all three prehistoric novels in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy - Shadows on the Trail, Ghosts of the Heart, and Winds of Eden I researched Native American healing practices and medicines because I knew that several of my characters in the books would require healing practices and medicines. I had to make the assumption that the documented healing practices and medicines of the historical Native American Indian tribes were handed down to them by their prehistoric ancestors over thousands of years earlier. What surprised me the most during my research was the lack of medicines and herbs for treating serious ailments and sicknesses, even during historical Native American Indian times.         
     Below is a short segment from my prehistoric novel Ghosts of the Heart where our hero Chayton survived a serious shoulder wound and made it back to his tribe, the Folsom People. His wound was highly infected and the only healer the tribe happened to be Tarca Sapa’s granddaughter, Tonkala.       
     Tonkala walked over to the [bison] paunch and threw a small piece of deer hide into the boiling water. She stirred the deer hide around in the boiling water with a stick and then plucked it out of the water. She grabbed the deer hide and walked over to Chayton where she washed and scrubbed the wound with the deer hide. Chayton grimaced in pain, but did not utter a word. Kangi rotated more broiling rocks into the paunch, keeping the water steamy hot. Tonkala took the hide back to the paunch and dropped it into the boiling water.

     Chayton glanced up and met the eyes of Tonkala’s young daughter, Lupan. She smiled at Chayton and he gave her a combination grimace-smile back. Tonkala returned with the deer hide and vigorously scrubbed the wound, turning Chayton’s entire shoulder a bright red.

     Wa nee yea due ne doe na hey, Lupan? – How many winters are you, Lupan?” Chayton asked the small girl, attempting to take his mind elsewhere.

     Tópa, – Four,” Lupan answered and then instantly looked at her mother who returned a frown to her daughter.

     Hee ya, yámni, – No, three,” Lupan corrected herself.

     “She is always trying to be older than she actually is,” Tonkala noted to Chayton.

     Tonkala then turned to the hunters and said, “Bring him water to drink.”

     Tonkala then began assembling the herbs and special tree bark she required for making a healing poultice. Out of a large satchel, Tonkala retrieved witch hazel, white poplar bark, and juniper berries. Tonkala laid the mixture onto a sandstone grinding stone and added a small amount of the boiling water. She then pulverized the ingredients with a round rock until the mixture became a paste. She then spread the paste over the wound and then sealed the wound with a clean piece of deer hide. She held the deer hide to the wound with her fingers until the paste congealed and glued the deer hide to Chayton’s skin. A hunter finally returned with drinking water and handed it to Tonkala.
 Figure 3 - We know how large and dangerous modern
bison are (to the left). Bison antiquus was the bison species that
the Folsom People hunted in the Shadows on the Trail Trilogy. 
Bison antiquus was much larger and more dangerous than
even the modern bison species. Note the size comparison.
     There is no way for any of us to know what sicknesses and diseases the Folsom People had to face during the Pleistocene. However, evidence from prehistoric human skeletons demonstrates that prehistoric people suffered from bad teeth, broken bones, osteoporosis, arthritis, wounds from various causes, and many other maladies. Prehistoric people lived extremely harsh lives where their subsistence strategy consisted of hunting large and dangerous mammals. If prehistoric people became severely hurt or sick, they could not just go to a doctor or dentist. They had to rely on natural medicines and endure the pain.
     Read Shadows on the Trail, Ghosts of the Heart, and Winds of Eden. Take a trip back to the Pleistocene! You will appreciate the modern conveniences we have even more!!  
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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Paleoindian Wounds and Injuries in Ghosts of the Heart

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One idea I wanted to dramatize in Ghosts of the Heart was the effects of wounds and injuries on a human's survival around 11,000 years ago in the Pleistocene. During my research for writing Ghosts of the Heart, I looked for evidence and information on how wounds and injuries were treated in the prehistoric world. Since this type of evidence is not usually found in archaeological sites, I had to assume that some of the known Native American treatments had been passed down for generations, perhaps from Paleoindian times.

Modern experimentation demonstrates that a spear can be  propelled from
an atlatl at an average speed of over 80 miles  per hour with speeds exceeding
130 miles per hour  during certain portions of the flight. 
The bottom line from my research on the subject of wounds and injuries in the Pleistocene - serious wounds and injuries often led to death, leading to a low life expectancy. This we can verify from the age of the human skeletons that have been found.

Below is a short scene from Ghosts of the Heart. In this particular scene, Chayton was seriously wounded by a stone-tipped spear, thrown from an atlatl or spear thrower. Chayton and his friend Wiyaka found themselves in a dilemma. With Chayton and Wiyaka far from their tribe, the only thing they could do was run for their lives and find their tribe so Chayton's wound could be treated.        

                                             Folsom dart point used by the Folsom People and an
                                                       Agate Basin dart point used by the Mountain People.  
Before the sunset in the west, Chayton and Wiyaka made it out of the mountains and onto the foothills. Wiyaka found a safe place for them to camp near a small spring-fed pond. Chayton collapsed on the ground, sick and exhausted. Wiyaka went to the pond and filled up their water pouches. When he returned, Wiyaka woke Chayton up, telling him, “Sit up! I want to look at
your shoulder.”

Wiyaka knelt down behind Chayton and said, “It is getting dark, turn your back to the sun.”

“Where is Namid?” Chayton asked.

“Slol wa yea shnee, – I do not know.”


“Slol wa yea shnee, – I do not know.”

Chayton slowly twisted his body, letting the rays of the setting sun reach his wounded shoulder. Chayton’s hide shirt was stuck to the wound with dried blood. When Wiyaka peeled the shirt away, the air exploded with hundreds of flies escaping from the festering wound. Wiyaka swatted at the
dense cloud of flies, but they were not going to give up their feast easily. Wiyaka leaned closer, attempting to block the flight of the flies while he examined the wound. Wiyaka took a whiff and quickly turned his nose away. The smell of rotting flesh overcame his senses. Holding his breath, Wiyaka steadied his stomach and inspected the wound. Blood was still trickling down Chayton’s back and a whitish-yellow mass covered the wound. When Wiyaka stuck his face even closer to inspect the whitish-yellow mass, he caught another whiff of the rancid smell and turned his head away. Wiyaka’s eyes watered from the strong stench and his stomach began to heave. He held his breath once again and inspected the wound. This was too much for Wiyaka and he turned his head to the side, vomiting the contents of his almost empty stomach on the ground. When he had purged his stomach of everything in it and more, Wiyaka again tried to inspect the whitish-yellow glob that completely enveloped the wound and the surrounding area. He found that it consisted of fly eggs and when he looked closer, he saw that many of the eggs had already hatched and white maggots had taken over.

“Waglulas, – Maggots,” Wiyaka declared. “Ayabeya. – Everywhere.”

Without antibiotics, infection was a silent and deadly killer for prehistoric people, just as it is today. Chayton was fortunate that they were able to get the stone spear point out of his shoulder without too much trauma. The stone spear point was attached to the spear shaft with animal sinew or tendon. When sinew comes into contact with blood and bodily fluids, it stretches and swells. Pulling on the spear shaft could have caused the sinew to split, leaving the stone spear point in the shoulder muscle. The shoulder muscles would then contract around the spear point making it even more difficult or impossible to extract from the body.

Deadly two inch long
Colorado Folsom.
Chayton was also lucky he was hit in the shoulder and not somewhere more lethal, such as the chest or the abdomen. The deadliness of a chest wound is self explanatory. A wound to the abdomen or stomach can be just as deadly. Vital organs and blood vessels are concentrated in the abdomen of a human. If an intestine is pierced, a fatal infection was almost assured. As an analogy from historical times, Mexican soldiers wrapped heavy blankets around their mid sections when fighting the Apache Indians. The Mexican soldiers were protecting their abdomens from deadly arrow wounds to the abdomen. We also know that some historical Native American tribes draped thick animal hides around their torsos to protect themselves from arrow and bullet wounds.  

Does Chayton survive his wound? You will have to read Ghosts of the Heart to find out.

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Friday, January 3, 2014

Ghosts of the Heart by John Bradford Branney - Relive the Pleistocene!

Add cRelive the Pleistocene in the pages of  Ghosts of the Heart by John Bradford Branney.
Available at,, and better booksellers.

 If you enjoy reading about fossils and our prehistory in North America, check out this article on the fossil finds at the Gray Fossil Site!

Pleistocene Fossils at the Gray Site