Bitesize has changed! We're updating subjects as fast as we can. Visit our new site to find Bitesize guides and clips - and tell us what you think!


Prehistoric knowledge about the body and disease

It is impossible to be sure about what prehistoric peoples knew about the workings of the body. But we can make some good guesses, based on the little bits of information we do have.


mother, father and two children

Engraving by William Blake of an Aboriginal family from New South Wales, Australia

If we assume that prehistoric peoples were similar to the few remaining primitive peoples of the modern age, we can also assume they knew little about the inner workings of the body.

Some of their burial practices (where bones were stripped of the flesh, bleached and buried in different piles), however, suggest that they must have known at least something about bone structure. And archaeologists have found evidence of cannibalism amongst some prehistoric people, so presumably these people also knew something about the flesh and inner organs of the body.

It is possible that prehistoric people believed that life and the functions of the body were determined by the spirits ('animism'). The Australian Aborigines of recent times believed that illness occurred when a person's spirit was lost or stolen by an enemy.

Back to Ancient Medicine index

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.