Thursday, January 30, 2014

Shadows on the Trail Trilogy - Healing Practices in the Pleistocene

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!!  
Click to Order John Bradford Branney Books.