The use of Mercury should not come as a shock, as it among other substances were used in ancient medical practices even when they weren’t good for people. Dating back to a little before 2000 BC, Ancient Hindus and Chinese used Mercury to treat a variety of things.
The biggest connection to Mercury use comes from Ancient Egypt, where we found the first use of it dating back to at least 1500 BC due to finding it in tombs. Romans and Greeks even used it in ointments and cosmetics! Today, Mercury is still used by the medical community. You may see it in at least thermometers as well as in some vaccines. It is slowly being removed, however.
The topic of circumcision is often connected to religious beliefs. That is due to the Quran, Torah, and Holy Bible all having at least one story of characters needing to be circumcised in their text for some specific reason. The connection Biblically revolves around Joshua and his men, who God commanded to be circumcised before they marched around the Walls of Jericho. The Walls fell down, resulting in most Jewish men becoming circumcised to continue following God’s command.
Circumcision, or the removal of the foreskin around the penis, was originally assumed to be useful medically. There is some science to support this, but it is connected to a time period where it made sense to do it. Circumcision dates back over 15,000 years in human history. Due to the elements and situations that people found themselves in, the removal of the foreskin to prevent disease or something made sense. Today? While still done, it’s not really necessary.
In ancient times, hernias were usually a male issue. This could be a big blow to a family as it could take the male provider down for a while or permanently. Specifically, the big hernia that took men down was the inner groin hernia, common in up to 27% of men and around 70-80% of all hernia cases even today. Ancient physicians wanted to prevent them whenever possible.
That was when the test every man does during a physical came about. A man’s testicles will be examined as he’s asked to “turn your head and cough.” Doctors can feel if a hernia is present by doing this. If one is found, you could treat it before it progressed. In fact, it was our good buddy Galen who came up with this.
While this might be seen as a bit odd, Bee Venom Therapy dates back around 5,000 years and was used by Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and even the Chinese. Physicians would use honey bee venom for various diseases and even injuries. Hippocrates was actually a huge supporter of the practice and used it on his patients and even himself.
The therapy has a bee sting someone, which left the stinger within the person’s skin. As the venom pumps into their system, it is believed that the venom could treat acute pain overall. Things like arthritis could be alleviated by the therapy alone. It is still in use today through various Apothicaries around the world.
Funny enough, some form of dental work has been in practice for humans pretty much ever since their time on Earth began. In fact, even primates like Chimps, Apes, and others will do dental work on themselves to alleviate pain issues. Eventually, mankind smartened up and dental procedures became specialized with fillings becoming a popular part of this.
The first recorded timeframe where confirmed dental fillings were present dates back to China somewhere between 618-907 AD and expanded from there. Mercury was the first thing we used for fillings with other metals being used as time went on. Dentistry overall dates back to 3300 BC, so it is possible they may have used some form of dental fillings throughout history.
Ancient concepts like Maggot Therapy made sense during the timeframe it happened. However, you’d be surprised to hear how often it is used today. Of course, this tends to mostly be something used among tribes as well as some lesser developed nations. This biotherapy involved the introduction of live maggots into an open wound.
The maggots essentially clean out the wound, hopefully taking any possible infection out with them. This has been proven to assist in preventing infections in both humans and even animals, so it’s not shocking why it was used. Today, it is rare to see in first world nations but it is still used around the world.
The use of Castor Oil from Castor Plants is still practiced in developed nations and remains a popular treatment as a result. The Plants were abundant in Ancient Egypt, resulting in Castor Oil being used for tons of different medical needs.
Dating back to 4000 BC it was used to help alleviate eye irritation and even assist with strengthing hair follicles. Of course, one of the most popular uses of it was actually drinking the stuff. Castor Oil acts as a strong laxative to help with constipation issues, which was a common problem in the Ancient world. It is still seen in some hair products today.
Cauterization is the burning of a part or section of the body to either remove or close off a certain part of it. The goal usually is to destroy tissue and act as a sealer to avoid continued bleeding or damage. This can be a huge asset to people who may want to avoid possible infections.
In Ancient periods, open wounds often resulted in infection spreading. This is why Physicians in Ancient Greece & Egypt figured out that if better treatments were not present, then Cauterization was the best possible thing to do. It resulted in arms and legs being amputated far less. Today, the practice is still alive via Electrocautery or Cautery.
Surgical procedures revolving around Cataracts goes back thousands of years and is among the first major common surgeries in World History. The Ancient Egyptians apparently called it “couching,” as weird as that sounds. We have confirmation now that Egyptians did these surgeries as early as the 5th Century! Of course, the surgery is very different today.
In Ancient times, the operation dislocated the cataract lens, moving it away from the pupil and having it sit in the vitreous cavity toward the rear section of the eye. Considering the main issue with the Cataracts was blurred or foggy vision, the surgery did not completely fix the person. Images may still appear blurred but at least the foggy issue went away. Today, we remove the lens altogether and replace it with a new one.
Pus removal was and remains a major part of the medical world. It began centuries ago, however, when Ancient Egyptians began to discover that infections often were associated with pus. Theoretically, if the pus can be removed, the infection possibilities would drop, right? This is technically backed up by true, undebatable science.
Pus pockets on someone’s arm, leg, etc. tend to be associated with disease in some way. By letting it sit, infections continue. Meanwhile, by opening these pockets and draining as well as removing all possible pus and pus-blood mix, infections dropped big time. What these Ancient Egyptians stubbled across was a precaution to avoid Sepsis and Staph.
While today, women use tampons as a way to soak up blood from periods that they will then throw away, things were slightly different centuries ago. It was believed that a period was a curse upon the woman. This became a much bigger issue in the 12th Century and beyond but it was by no means that much better in Ancient Egypt.
Women were essentially treated for their menstruation the same way you’d stuff a teddy bear. They’d stick papyrus into the vagina to soak up the blood. Egyptians did not let this blood go to waste either, as they actually believed menstrual blood was the cure to sagging breasts and thighs and had women smear it upon themselves to help those issues. Eww…
Today we know that enemas do not actually work like we once thought they did, but they are still in use with several people being experts in the field. Gastrointestinal doctors no longer recommend them, but that does not stop people from getting one.
Enemas were first used in Ancient Egypt, with the confirmed use of them dating back to 1550 BC. Ebers Papyrus, the Ancient Egyptian Medical Document, refers to them being used for the exact things mentioned above. Among the many specialists in the field, Ebers Papyrus refers to a person literally known as the “Shepard of the Anus,” Iri. This was an Egyptian Proctologist.
A Craniotomy on its own is merely the opening of a person’s skull. Centuries ago, there were several ancient medical practices that revolved around the skull and brain. However, a Craniotomy was often done in the cases of high blood pressure, headaches, etc.
At the time, people assumed that due to pressure building up and causing so many issues, you had to let it out somehow. When an object has pressure, loosing or opening it up reliefs it. So why should a skull be any different, right? That was the thought pattern then. Today, this practice is still in use considering part of the skull needs to be removed to do most brain surgeries.
The use of prosthetics in ancient medical practices was insanely common, as a lack of knowledge led to people losing legs, arms, feet, etc. A prosthetic leg alone dates back to 3000 BC in the Ancient Egyptian territory. The well known Egyptian story, The Eye of Horus, dates back to this period too.
The story involves Horus’ eye being plucked out and replaced, showing some connection to eye prosthetics. Evidence of further archeological proof found prosthetics that dated back to 1000 BC in the New Kingdom in South Asia around 1200 BC. Most of these had to do with legs, feet, and even toes. Obviously we use prosthetics quite often today.
We have known for centuries that honey has some medicinal properties that are quite useful to the average person. It was once thought to be among the best medical treatments available. Today, there are far better medical options but honey still remains a very good option for various issues.
Ancient Egyptians used honey to assist in healing wounds and burns. It also could do a lot of good for allergy issues as well as upper respiratory problems. Singers often love to drink tea with honey as a way to coat their throat and avoid pains or risk vocal cord damage. Honestly, honey is a great natural remedy that really works and still advised by doctors.
For centuries, physicians recommended the use of leeches because they felt that they did a lot more good than they actually did. Essentially, these bloodsuckers do exactly as they are known for when placed on a person’s skin. Ancient Egyptians used them for skin diseases, minor infections, and even dental issues.
Today, they are still in use because they have actually shown some success in assisting with blood clots. The leeches actually secrete saliva that happens to be an anticoagulant. Of course, anticoagulants prevent blood from clotting. There are many medications for this today, but leeches are still useful in places where those are not available.
While Lobotomies became a lot more popular in the 1900s, there were versions of this that existed hundreds of years beforehand. While lobotomies originally were far worse and could even lead to someone’s death during ancient periods, they were also commonly done for religious reasons. During this timeframe, the Ancient Egyptians actually believed that the heart was the actual brain while the head just had cranial stuffing in it.
Aristotle even thought that the head was like a radiator for cooling our blood. This led to lobotomies occurring even when they were not designed to be one. They were still done very carefully and by design, but not with an intention to go for the brain. Hundreds of years later, the same types of operations were done, this time with brain intention. Lobotomies are very rare today and even outlawed in many places.
One of the coolest ancient medical practices still used today is the use of Obsidian Blades. They are commonly used in very delicate procedures/surgeries where exact accuracy is massively important. For those unaware, Obsidian itself is produced by felsic lava cooling with small crystal growth.
It develops along with high silica content that causes a high viscosity and thus results in a glass type of substance coming from the lava. The Obsidian comes out hard and brittle, along with very sharp edges. Due to this, people used to use Obsidian as cutting devices, especially for weaponry. Harder than conventional steel, people from the Stone Age and beyond used Obsidian for multiple things. Today we see it used in specialized surgery.
You’d think that, in most ways, it would be odd to even consider a fecal transplant. Yet it was quite common in Ancient China. Medical books from the 4th Century(301-400 AD) mentioned that the Chinese did them. The idea was that you could introduce feces from a healthy person into another sick person, essentially transplanting their feces.
The goal of this was to help restore colonic microflora. They’d do this usually via early versions of colonoscopies, enemas, etc. It has been used to treat multiple gastrointestinal issues like CDI, and even Colitis and Diarrhea. The greatness of Fecal Transplants has been debated for some time. While still done today, it is very rare to see in developed nations.
Typically, Aloe Vera is used today to treat skin problems such as burns and it happens to be used in a lot of different cosmetics. Of course, Aloe Vera is nothing new. It has been used in some form for thousands of years. Aloe itself comes from plants that can grow in many areas.
It can be traced back to 1500 BC in Ancient Egypt, who likely used it for their skin troubles and early cosmetics. It is even mentioned in the Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica by Greek Physician Pedanius Dioscorides from the Mid-1st Century AD. On top of this, the Juliana Anicia Codex of 512 AD refers to it as a useful skin helper too.
Anesthesia has been quite popular for thousands of years. You can trace the first versions of it as far back as Mesopotamia in 3400 BC. Then they likely used some powerful herbal remedies available to them at that point.
Once the Sumerians found poppy, this became THE anesthesia people used for hundreds of years. Ancient Egyptians stepped it up a notch and used some contents of the mandrake fruit. The Chinese and others eventually used it too. The Ancient Greeks probably developed it the most, considering the name itself is Greek in origin and translates to “without sensation.”
Modern-day versions of urinary catheters are relatively uncomfortable for people. However, this modern flexible catheter came along in the 18th Century (thanks Ben Franklin), but catheters overall were in use for a lot longer than that. They can be traced back to as far as 3000 BC!
Of course, Catheters are used for far more than the urinary department. They can be a huge help for heart-related issues too, so heart catheters are possibly overlooked more than they should be. However, we still use them for the urinary side a lot more than any other. This is simply due to powerful Hospital medications preventing people from releasing their liquid naturally.
We need to make sure real quick that we tell you this surgery known as the “Transsphenoidal Surgery” was not in place until 1907 when Herman Schloffer first attempted it. This surgery is done by inserting a surgical instrument into part of the brain by going through the nose and the sphenoid bone to enter Sphenoidial Sinus Cavity. Here, tumors are removed from the pituitary gland.
However, a version just like it called the “Transnasal Excerebration Surgery” was done for centuries and dates back to Ancient Egypt. Did you ever notice that Egyptian Mummies seem to always have weird-looking noses? This surgery was done by Egyptian Embalmers to remove the cranial vault while they were mummifying someone. Resulting in the weird mummy nose. This also allowed them to remove the brain via the nose too.
For centuries, people felt that certain sicknesses were a result of liquid balance somehow being thrown off. Thus, removing blood was meant to bring balance. It’s widely believed that it worked in cases of things like Hypertension, which could happen with quite a number of illnesses. However, beyond this, there wasn’t much use in it.
As one of the major ancient medical practices, it remained common until the 18th Century in Europe. Today, we still do this but not always in the exact form. When we’re sick, our doctor may want to take our blood and see if there is an issue with it. Hence, modern bloodletting is basically getting blood drawn as well as donating our blood for others.
For many years, it was thought that touching a dead body disrespected the deceased. Even Hippocrates felt that looking at a body was unneeded as death was always from natural causes. Of course, he also believed only 8 things made up the human body then. However, somewhere between 367-282 BC, then King of Egypt Ptolemy I Soter wanted autopsies to be done.
This was due to wanting pathologic anatomy to be within the Library of Alexandria. He allowed physicians to dissect executed criminals to do this. Despite hundreds of years of Autopsies being accepted, European nations pushed against them on religious grounds. This stopped autopsies for quite some time until they were eventually restored later and remain in use today.
The process of checking a female’s virginity may not have a genuine start date. It was widely assumed to have become a tradition to check on this before marriages took place as a way of proving a woman was pure for her husband. It became a very popular Indigenous concept as much as it was in Ancient Greece, Egypt, China, etc. The way they would do this is by having a physician or elder check a female’s vagina for an intact hymen.
If it was perfectly intact, she was pure. If not, it meant she had sex previously and it could end possible marriages. Today, we know that hymens do not work this way and virgins can have ripped hymens from various activities. Meanwhile, even some sexually active women still have intact hymens. Hence, it’s not a good virginity check. Sadly, this process is still in practice in some parts of the world.
While vaccinations became far bigger in the 1900s, they have actually been around a long time. It is one of those ancient medical practices that often gets overlooked due to the other more well-known practices it seems. In the year 1000 AD, the Chinese found a way to vaccinate people against the devastating Small Pox epidemic.
That means vaccinations have been in place for more than 1,000 years now. Of course, there were vaccination breakthroughs in the 1500s, 1700s, and the 1800s & 1900s. Today, we have more vaccination options than ever. That all began with the Chinese, however.
We knew for thousands of years that some plants could bring some medical help to those who were sick. However, help with severe pain came once the Poppy was discovered. It was found sometime near 5000 BC at the end of the Neolithic Period. It was then used by many physicians, resulting in it joining the major ancient medical practices we know of today.
Sumerians and Assyrians were known for it and “Opium” slowly began to grow across the known world. Ancient Greeks slowly developed it into a full-fledged painkiller that they could give nearly anyone. It is mentioned in some form in every single major medical text known too. Today, we have multiple different opioids on the market, but it all began with the Poppy’s Opium.
The process of the Tracheostomy is among the biggest ancient medical practices on record today. It was believed to have originated around 4000 to 3600 BC due to it being depicted in Egyptian art from that timeframe. However, the person who is most credited for the modern version of a Tracheostomy is Roman Physician Asclepiades of Bithynia, who lived around 100 BC.
A Tracheostomy is one of the first things people learn in medical school today due to the common need for it. A person simply makes an incision on the front of someone’s neck, opening the Trachea to develop a direct airway. Today, we insert tracheal tubes to help keep the hole open for further use.
Acupuncture is relatively popular today yet it originated in China sometime between 2000-1000 BC. From this point, it became a popular trend among people of the time. Acupuncture uses needles in specific areas of the body to assist with multiple different issues, often regarding pain. Some felt that it could be used for allergy/sinus problems too.
Today Acupuncture is considered pseudoscience, due to a severe lack of hard scientific proof that it helps. Yet pseudoscience has worked in many forms in the past due to someone believing that something works. Ultimately, that could be why Acupuncture is still used so often today.
Trepanation may be among the oldest ancient medical practices on this list and it makes sense to see why. Relieving a pain in the head by making a hole in it? It seems logical, right? Trepanning is the process of drilling or scraping a hole into a person’s skull as a way to relieve pressure from intracranial disease or blood buildup.
In ancient periods, people used to believe this was also a way to remove evil spirits from someone. Obviously, we don’t do it today for that reason. Due to archeological evidence, we can trace this practice back as far as 6500 BC. Archeologists found skulls showing man-made holes from that time, as well as from several other time periods.
Chiropractic is very popular today and among the most well-known ancient medical practices. It can be used for issues regarding the back as well as the neck. Yet the entire concept behind it is much bigger. The body can and has repaired itself from problems and small illnesses.
Thus, Chiro uses that concept by affecting the nervous system via adjustments to your spinal alignment. Small throws off of this alignment can cause bodily issues such as pain, as well as headaches and much more. It can be traced back to Ancient Egypt and China from 3400 to 2700 BC. There is a lot of success from Chiropractic treatment today, making it a leader in alternative medical care.
We all know what a Cesarian Section is by now. In fact, some of our own mothers very well had them in order to give birth to us. Considering babies had to eventually come out of their mother, the C-Section is likely the most famous of all ancient medical practices. We can trace them back in medical literature as far as 1000 BC.
However, it possible they happened a good bit beforehand. It used to be that a C-Section would result in the death of the mother, considering the way to do it is literally to open her up. Organs have to be moved around or out completely just to get the child out. Naturally, this could kill a person in ancient times. Today, deaths are very rare in developed nations.
Live Science, Science Daily, World Health Organization, NPR, New York Times, Britannica, Smithsonian Magazine, Mayo Clinic, Medical Daily, Cancer.org, History.com, UroToday.com, NCBI.NLM.NIH.gov, ScienceDirect.com, Phys.org