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The History of Medicine

written by: Ricky•edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski•updated: 8/19/2008

Whenever you are sick or have any other form of ailment, you simply pop in to your physician and take some medicine. But have you ever thought of how our ancestors managed it? What are the origins of medicine?

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    Introduction

    It is a very old question which intrigues even the best of brains – which came first, the chicken or the egg? It may not be possible to find an answer to this puzzle but another related question could be – what came first, the medicine or the disease? Well this seems much easier to guess and obviously medicines must have been thought of only when some disease might have occurred.

    The development of medical science is not a singular event which took place in an instant and somebody just ran naked shouting Eureka. Rather medical science as we know it today was a result of a slow and steady evolution from the crude beginnings from the days of the yore to the current era where we have many sophisticated machines and medicines. In this article we will take a brief look at the history of medicine.

     

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    The Beginnings

    In the earlier days there were no computers, printing presses and books, so unfortunately we do not have any documented records of when the first medicine might have been used. But we can reasonably guess that since in the early ages, manufacturing of modern day drugs would not have been possible, man must have used natural agents for healing. And can you think of these natural agents? Well plants or herbs were one of the first medicines that were used because they occurred naturally and man depended heavily on them for all requirements be it food, wood, shelter and so on. Remember that I am not talking about a few hundred years but several thousand years ago.

    Infact the earliest assumptions of the use of herbs for medicines dates as far back as nearly 17000 years based on the radio carbon dating of Lascaux Caves in France, which depict the use of herbs as medicinal agents (Ruspoli, 1987).

    Starting from those humble beginnings, later on medicine developed as a specialized science and all the major civilizations across the globe had their own unique system of medicine which was suited to the needs of their era. It would not be possible to discuss all these types in detail in this introductory article but I would try to take them individually in the coming articles. Some of these systems include Chinese medicine, Indian medicine, Persian medicine, Egyptian medicine and so forth.

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    The Modern Medicine

    The basis of most types of medicinal systems of the past was that diseases are caused by the wrath of Gods and so forth. Of course this does not mean to say that these systems were totally useless but somehow they utilized the underlying scientific concepts without actually understanding them. The modern day medicine really developed with the advancements in science and technology in various related fields such as chemistry and biology a couple of centuries ago. It was aided by growth in other fields such as computers, electronics and physics which helped to make different machines and instruments to diagnose and treat diseases.

    Modern medicine has helped to eliminate many diseases but it would be wrong to say that diseases have been conquered fully. New advancements in medical science are literally competed by new types of diseases and nature always stays a step ahead of mankind in this race. May be this is another way of that Supreme Intelligence to keep the human race always on its toes, after all stagnation leads to deterioration but struggle keeps a race progressive.

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    Reference & Suggested Reading

    The Cave of Lascaux