AO Magazine - July 2019
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Most of us look back in horror at the practices of ancient healers – boring holes in the skull to treat head injuries, anesthetic-free amputations, and mercury-laden contraceptive concoctions.
Despite the lack of technology available in the past, it is also tempting to scoff at some of the commonly-held beliefs about everyday maladies: cavities caused by tooth worms, seizures induced by demonic possession, and female ‘hysteria’ the result of a ‘wandering womb’ that could glide freely about the body, causing havoc.
But for all its inaccuracies, ancient medical practices were in many cases innovative and practical, and in other cases, simply astounding. We know, for example, that many cases of trepanation – the earliest form of brain surgery, dating back 10,000 years – were actually successful!
In this issue, we explore the intuitive medicine of the Native American tradition, as well as the advanced medical practices of the Stonehenge builders. We delve into ancient beliefs in Mesopotamia concerning the origins of disease, and we hear from a master brewer about the long tradition of brewing beer infused with healing herbs. We also examine some of the ways ancient people dealt with devastating war injuries.
But it’s not all blood, gore, and disease. Among the quirkier accounts of medical practices, we have bathing in donkey milk, consuming bottles of snake oil, and smelling (and even tasting!) urine. And surprisingly, some of it really worked!
Also in this edition, we look at another surprising accomplishment of the past – the Maya construction of the Bridge to Yaxchilan, the longest bridge of the ancient world. And the award-winning structural engineer behind its discovery tells us exactly how they did it.
The Ancient Origins Magazine wouldn’t be complete without a bit of the weird and unknown, and with that in mind, we introduce you to bestiaries, the books of beasts that graced medieval shelves. We also present the Tamam Shud Enigma, a cold case with ancient connections that has never been solved – can you crack the code?