Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Some Good News, From The Distant Past

On a week of bad news all 'round, I am glad to see a bit of good news about the human condition - even if it was from our pre-historic past.

We all know that stone age people - even the most ancient of these - had an aesthetic sense (see above), but now it turns out they had a strong sense of ethical social responsibly too. Turns out they cared for the weak and the sick: even those who could not be "productive" members of society.

The New York Times reports,
While it is a painful truism that brutality and violence are at least as old as humanity, so, it seems, is caring for the sick and disabled. 
And some archaeologists are suggesting a closer, more systematic look at how prehistoric people — who may have left only their bones — treated illness, injury and incapacitation. Call it the archaeology of health care. 
The case that led Lorna Tilley and Marc Oxenham of Australian National University in Canberra to this idea is that of a profoundly ill young man who lived 4,000 years ago in what is now northern Vietnam and was buried, as were others in his culture, at a site known as Man Bac. 
Almost all the other skeletons at the site, south of Hanoi and about 15 miles from the coast, lie straight. Burial 9, as both the remains and the once living person are known, was laid to rest curled in the fetal position. When Ms. Tilley, a graduate student in archaeology, and Dr. Oxenham, a professor, excavated and examined the skeleton in 2007 it became clear why. His fused vertebrae, weak bones and other evidence suggested that he lies in death as he did in life, bent and crippled by disease. 
They gathered that he became paralyzed from the waist down before adolescence, the result of a congenital disease known as Klippel-Feil syndrome. He had little, if any, use of his arms and could not have fed himself or kept himself clean. But he lived another 10 years or so. 
They concluded that the people around him who had no metal and lived by fishing, hunting and raising barely domesticated pigs, took the time and care to tend to his every need

The article sites even more ancient cases, including
"at least one Neanderthal,... from a site in Iraq, dating to 45,000 years ago, who died around age 50 with one arm amputated, loss of vision in one eye and other injuries." ...
In another well-known case, the skeleton of a teenage boy, Romito 2, found at a site in Italy in the 1980s, and dating to 10,000 years ago, showed a form of severe dwarfism that left the boy with very short arms. His people were nomadic and they lived by hunting and gathering. He didn’t need nursing care, but the group would have had to accept that he couldn’t run at the same pace or participate in hunting in the same way others did.

And the researchers conclude,
[While a] paralyzed person, for example, would need “direct support” similar to nursing care ... someone like Romito 2 would need “accommodation,” 

The article concludes with the story of
a young woman about 18 years old from a site on the Arabian Peninsula more than 4,000 years old indicated that the woman had a neuromuscular disease, perhaps polio. Her condition likely made it difficult for her to walk,” ...“She had exceedingly thin arm and leg bones with very little buildup of normal muscle attachments.” She probably received round-the-clock care,...
The story goes on to say that this young woman was so well fed on local dates, that her teeth rotted.

* * *

Welfare, nursing care and accommodation for disabilities, all before the dawn of "civilization." Maybe civilization isn't all its cracked up to be?


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