Round Robin: Detective Stories


| June/July 1994


WOLFTOWN, Virginia—During our last winter’s cold-hearted knockout punch, I finished Jean Auel’s The Plains of Passage, her fourth novel on prehistoric humans and Neanderthals during the period between ice ages, circa 30,000 b.c. Ayla and Jondalar are Homo sapiens on a long journey from the far reaches of what is now eastern Europe to modern France. They follow “The Great Mother River”, today’s Danube, and must cross a glacier. The similarity to the glacierlike conditions that immobilized us here on the farm last winter gave the story immediacy.

But throughout the series, Ayla’s skills as a medicine woman have fascinated me. In Plains of Passage, for instance, she anesthetizes a woman with a broken arm using datura, a hallucinogen. She applies a healing poultice of pulverized yarrow and spikenard roots, wrapping it around the wound with a chamois skin. Later, she applies a thin, wet layer of birch bark that dries to a firm cast. She makes a soothing tea of linden flowers and collects purple hyssop for a tea to clear a congested chest, flavoring it with fragrant, spicy pink gillyflowers (dianthus). She makes a heart-strengthening brew of hawthorn berries. Throughout their journey, Ayla even conceals from Jondalar a special bag of unnamed contraceptive herbs, from which she makes a daily tea to prevent pregnancy during the arduous trip.

It requires a willing suspension of disbelief to accept that Ayla could be so knowledgeable about healing herbs, but Jean Auel has done her homework, using recent discoveries and advances in dating and research methods.

I’ve read of anthropologist/archaeologist Ralph Solecki’s discovery in 1963 of several sets of 60,000-year-old Neanderthal bones excavated in a cave he called Shanidar in Kurdish Iraq. One of his discoveries lends credence to Auel’s herbal descriptions. Soil samples, taken under one set of remains deep within the cave, contained the pollen of eight different flowering species including relatives of grape hyacinth, bachelor’s-button, hollyhock, ephedra, yarrow, and several varieties of groundsel. The sample contained unusually dense clusters of pollen, indicating a ritual burial and suggesting a Neanderthal belief in a soul and an afterlife. Solecki’s find altered forever anthropologists’ earlier view of the Neanderthal as a brutish, scarcely human species.



Further, the plants found in the Shanidar grave are known diuretics, emetics, astringents, emollients, stimulants, and pain relievers. Because most of the species identified are still used medicinally by the people living in the area—as well as by many Western herbalists—most anthropologists agree that thousands of years before the development of farming, people had a considerable knowledge of plant medicine. Keep in mind, too, that Shanidar’s Neanderthal bones were 60,000 years old. Auel’s Plains of Passage takes place tens of thousands of years later.

As for the reference to contraceptives, John Riddle’s Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance might persuade the most skeptical reader that ancient women had knowledge of effective herbal measures to control reproduction.








mother earth news fair 2018 schedule

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Next: June 2-3, 2018
Frederick, MD

Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on natural health, organic gardening, real food and more!

LEARN MORE









Subscribe today and save 58%

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living !

Mother Earth LivingWelcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $19.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $24.95.




Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter


Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved
Ogden Publications, Inc., 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, Kansas 66609-1265