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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