On the development of Palaeolithic Phythotherapy in Western Eurasia and early American Indian Medicine in Siberia and North America

Dr. Bruno Wolters

For a time as early as the Pleistocene, namely 60,000 years ago for the Neanderthal people of Shanidar IV in Iraq, and 12,500 years ago for the American Indians of Monte Verde II in Chile, there has been evidence of the ethnobotanic experience of man's using a high percentage of his economic plants (above all timber and food plants) as medicinal plants. The high percentage (50 - 65 %) of this use in the American Indian as well as in the Central European popular medicine of today is a relic from the Palaeolithic period. The timber and food plants of Homo erectus and Neanderthal Man were even up to 100 % medicinal plants at the same time. They were used in a multifunctional way and were the core of Pleistocene phytotherapy.

Comparative indication statistics on the medicine of the Monte Verde Indians of the late Pleistocene period and on that of today's Mapuche in Chile permit an insight into phytotherapy and the medicinal needs in the late Pleistocene period (ROSSEN and DILLEHAY, 1997). In the paper presented here, this method is used to establish the corresponding dates for the people in Pleistocene western Eurasia and for early indigenous medicine in North America. As a result, the fact is established that - as a consequence of the conditions of life in the Pleistocene period - the therapy of affections of the urinary tract was of higher rank than in the post-Pleistocene period and today. On the other hand, respiratory diseases were of lower rank in former times - as a consequence of the very low population density - until, with the use of the first cultivated plants, the density and therefore the frequency of infections increased; in North America, this also applies to the indication for fever. Veterinary aids were missing in the Pleistocene period through lack of pets.

In view of the fact that certain mammals already use individual medicinal, stimulating and hallucinogenous plants, it is to be presumed that the early hominids in Africa also used individual plants in a similar way. The indication statistics indicates first signs of the use of medicinal plants in Europe for Homo erectus 370,000 years ago. For Neanderthal Man and Homo sapiens ssp. sapiens, there is definite evidence of shamanism and medicinal experience in the Pleistocene period.. The medicinal plants common in the circumpolar area of the Northern Hemisphere are the Pleistocene core of North American Indian medicine. This becomes evident through comparisons with Russian-Siberian popular medicine, North Asian shamanism and the indication statistics on the circumpolar medicinal plants within today's indigenous medicine in North America. After their immigration to North America, the American Indians first chiefly used circumpolar genera of economic plants (for nourishment as well as for medicine), but in the course of the post-Pleistocene period, they used more and more specifically North American ones, as can be clearly proved.