The lifestyle of the early hunter-gatherers may have been quite healthy.
It used to be thought that the lives of primitive peoples were 'nasty, brutish and short' (to quote Thomas Hobbes, the 17th century philosopher). It is now thought that their lifestyle was actually quite healthy. More
Hunter-gatherers had a plentiful and varied diet.
The hunting and foraging for food did not involve a huge amount of back-breaking labour and, if food was short in one area, they could easily move on to another. More
Early human societies may have been very violent.
Some anthropologists (people who study humans) have come to believe that there could be truth in the 'nasty, brutish and short' idea, because they think the skeletal remains of ancient people show evidence of a high level of violence. More
As populations grew, society is likely to have become more violent.
Competition for scarce resources, particularly at times when climates were less hospitable, may well have led to conflict, especially as people started to farm. More
People would have been at risk from the large wild animals that shared their environment.
Anthropologists also believe that primitive societies were pervaded by a sense of fear. They feared wild animals and possibly also other humans. More
Early medicine was most likely based around a belief in a magic-spirit world.
Prehistoric medicine would have been extremely basic and what treatments there were reflected their close relationship to nature and their superstition about spirits. Medicine was in the hands of spiritual healers and herbalists. More
They would have been very knowledgeable about the properties of plants.
Prehistoric doctors (or medicine men) undoubtedly knew a huge amount about the properties of different plants. This knowledge would have greatly aided them in finding simple cures for their patients. Herbs were to remain an important treatment for diseases throughout history. More
Unexplained serious or disabling illness was thought to be caused by evil spirits or by curses and sorcery.
Illnesses, therefore, had to be dealt with on a spiritual level by a spiritual or witch doctor. A number of skull remains have been found worldwide with holes drilled into them. It is possible that this was done to release evil spirits. More
Early people probably suffered from several common health problems.
Evidence has been found of joint disease (arthritis), probably caused by the lifting of heavy objects or from injuries, and teeth infections. More
They may have been able to carry out some simple procedures such as setting broken bones.
There is some evidence of prehistoric people setting broken or fractured bones by covering the broken area with clay where this was available. More
As people settled down to farm, diseases would have spread more easily.
The transition from hunter-gatherer societies to settled farming communities involved real sacrifices. Living closer to other people, with their germs and their waste, exposed villagers to contagious diseases in a way that hunter-gatherers were not. More
Living close to domesticated animals also exposed humans to the risk of catching diseases from them.
Farmers lived in closer proximity to their animals, often living in the same buildings as them - which exposed them to greater risk of infection. All the major killer diseases of mankind have originally crossed over to humans from animals. More
The coming of early cities greatly increased the spread of diseases.
With thousands of people living in tightly packed houses, disease spread like wildfire in the cities. More
As populations increased, societies became more threatened by famine.
All traditional societies found themselves facing food shortages from time to time. One way to help with this was by controlling population growth. More
If food shortages lasted for more than a few years, various strategies were found to survive.
These varied from robbing others to the development of better techniques, which allowed more food to be produced. More
Stone granules in the food from grinding caused tooth problems.
This was a chronic problem for early farmers (in fact, all farming communities before modern times), the granules causing the wearing away of their teeth. More
In the early days of farming societies, evidence suggests a decline in health.
There is evidence that the height of humans, one indicator of health and good nourishment, declined as people switched to cultivation. There was also an increase in infant mortality and diseases related to malnutrition. More
Farmers' health was affected by the back-breaking work that they did.
With primitive tools to cultivate the land, and all the other activities that went with it, farming was very hard work. More
The life span of prehistoric people was much shorter than today.
Typically the lifespan was between 25-45 years (although some people lived longer) and this would have varied as conditions changed across such a long timescale. More
Heinemann: Medicine Through Time, 1997
Lawrence Keeley: War Before Civilisation, 1996
Richard Gabriel: The Culture of War, 1990
National Geographic Articles