Prehistoric Societies

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The scanty archaeological remains of plant materials that have come to light indicate that, after foods, construction, and clothing materials, healing plants were man's primary interest in the Plant Kingdom. There is evidence from several widely separated parts of the world.
Archaeological studies at Shanidar in Iraq indicate that the Neanderthals living there may have had a rudimentary pharmacopeia. Of the eight species of plants identified through pollen grains from remains in this, site, seven represent plants still prominent in ethnomedicine in this locality and elsewhere in Asia. Included in this 60,000 year-old burial site are Yarrow (Achillea), Hollyhock (Althea), Groundsel (Senecio), Grape Hyacinth (Muscari), St. Barnaby's Thistle (Centaurea), and Joint Pine (Ephedra). Ralph Solecki, the archaeologist who excavated this site, maintained that the finding of so many plants with known medicinal properties may well cause "speculation about the extent of the human spirit in Neanderthals" leading to the acceptance of the opinion that they indeed did possess an extensive knowledge of the effective medicinal properties of the flora.
In Peruvian graves 2000 years older than the height of the Inca Empire (which occurred some 2500 years ago), bags for coca leaves and the lliptu or lime used with Coca-leaf chewing have been found. Coca leaves discovered in Inca mummy bundles and dated some 1500 years ago have been examined and chemically show the presence of alkaloids. While coca chewing was practiced widely in pre-Hispanic times from northernmost Colombia down the Andes, its main hedonistic used was a stimulant and narcotic-as it still is. It had, however, in olden times as today, a host of purely medicinal uses, and as in the case of many sacred hallucinogens and narcotics, it is difficult to separate narcotic from medicinal use (in the aboriginal sense of "medicine").
A series of shelters in Coahuila, Mexico, spanning some 8000 years of occupation, have yielded material of the peyote cactus, mescal beans, and Mexican buckeye seeds. All may have been employed as medicines by the early inhabitants, since all are known to possess active principles. Peyote, employed mainly as a hallucinogen today, may have had ceremonial use this far back in time; but it is still valued by mexican Indians as a physical medicine to hasten the healing of bruises, cuts, and wounds, and it has recently been shown to possess antibiotic activity. Study of dried peyote dated A.D. 810-1070 from these sites-possibly the oldest material yet subjected to chemical analysis-has demonstrated the enduring presence of alkaloids.

pp. 137-138, Medicine From The Earth by Emile M. B├╝hrer (1978)

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