A story in the New York Times today by James Gorman covers some cases of ancient skeletons that provide evidence of long-term palliative care in prehistoric societies: “Ancient Bones That Tell a Story of Compassion”. The article focuses on the work of Lorna Tilley, who has been working to build a more systematic understanding of the paleopathology of care.
Ms. Tilley gained her undergraduate degree in psychology in 1982 and worked in the health care industry studying treatment outcomes before coming to the study of archaeology. She said her experience influenced her interest in ancient health care.
What she proposes, in papers with Dr. Oxenham and in a dissertation in progress, is a standard four-stage method for studying ancient remains of disabled or ill individuals with an eye to understanding their societies. She sets up several stages of investigation: first, establishing what was wrong with a person; second, describing the impact of the illness or disability given the way of life followed in that culture; and third, concluding what level of care would have needed.
A paralyzed person, for example, would need direct support similar to nursing care while someone like Romito 2 would need accommodation, that is to say tolerance of his limitations and some assistance.
It’s a good article, with a broad representation of biological anthropologists including Debra Martin and Jane Buikstra.