Cave Drawings



Ancient Medicine

Ancient Medicine has always facinated me, especially the surgical aspect of it. The word surgery is taken from the Greek word Ergon which although means a "unit of work" in this case it just means work and then we have "Chiros" which in effect means hands. so Ergon Chiros work of the hands. Celsus described it as quae manu curat, "Cures diseases by means of the hand"

The beginnings of medicine cannot be explained simply, because all we have to rely upon are ancient stories and legends.

There are those who seem to be in the majority who believe that humans or Homo sapiens as they like to call us are millions of years old and we have evolved from a very primitive organism in a primordial soup.

I must stress this is not my view, as a Christian I believe we were created by the one true God. So, when you read this, i do not apologise, you will notice my bias. However you believe what you will.

In the beginning, according to Western and many Eastern theological traditions the first humans were without any illness or injury, as the earth was paradise or Eden.

The trouble started when Satan persuaded Eve who in turn persuaded Adam to disobey God and sin entered the world. You see, up till that point they were immortal. The apple contained the first poison (sin) and when taken by man, the result was an illness that led to the death of all mankind. It has been getting worse ever since.

Who said an apple a day keeps the doctor away?

It was said by the Greek Poet Hesiod who along with Homer were known as the first great writers of Greek literature.

"First of all the deathless gods who dwell on Olympus made a golden race of mortal men who lived in the time of Cronos when he was reigning in heaven. And they lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all evils."

So according to Greek tradition, men lived a life free from illness. The whole book "Works and Days" is worth a read.

There are several stories written from the ancient world of a beginnings without suffering, due to magic or religion however, the beginnings of surgery and anaesthesia were like medicine, inextricably linked with ancient magic and ancient religion.

Surgery had never been defined as a separate field of medicine, and was in ancient times and up until the discovery of Anaesthesia, considered to lowly a task for a trained physician to perform, so was left to lesser-educated assistants.

These early operators were performing what we obviously refer to today as "Surgery" The landscape of the world population was also different in Ancient times; there were fewer large town/city population centres.

The bulk of the population was spread out in very small villages and towns where the medicine and surgery was performed by residents, usually town elders. They used flint (sharp stones) to make their incisions Any remedies and treatments that seemed to be successful were passed down from generation to generation. 

During these times, there were remedies given as a result of rumours of miracles stemming from magical wells, streams and ponds. These so called "ponds of purity" was said to have cured the afflicted that had visited before.

In all probability, the person was washed by the fresh water, and the drinking of uncontaminated water would eventually aid recovery from the ailment. It would today be classed today as taking simple hygiene precautions, that we do all the time, without really thinking about it, however in those early days because you could not see bacteria or viruses, in the minds of those ancient people they did not exist and there was only one other explanation given, it had to be Supernatural.

The people, even of today's generations head off to a sacred river, or in the Catholic church, to places such as Lourdes for an instant cure, so although at first it sounds quite uncivilised, it is possible to see the people of today mimicking those of history.

There is some suggestion however that the prehistoric peoples used nightshades and other plants to treat certain ailments. Cave drawings in France said to be over 15000 years old, show tribes doing ritual dances dressed in animal skins and even had heads of animals, these are thought to be to ward illness away.


"So, the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh." 4



About This Site

The History of Surgery and Anaesthesia was created as a free resource to educate Students or indeed anyone wishing to understand the beginings of surgery and Anaesthesia.

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