From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bioarchaeology: Compassion unearthed

Human Molar (Photo by Gleam)
Sometimes modern-day clinicians talk as though they were the first to invent compassion.

Bioarchaeology (the study of biological remains from archaeological sites) would suggest otherwise.  By studying human remains (even ancient ones), scientists can determine many things about the medical history.  Furrows or pits within tooth enamel can indicate disease or malnutrition.  Bone lesions can also indicate diet deficiencies.  The thickness and strength of bones can show levels of activity or inactivity.  Skeletons often reveal age and gender, and sometimes yield information about socio-cultural conditions.

The New York Times recently reported that an archaeological site south of present-day Hanoi included one skeleton that was laid to rest in a fetal position, whereas almost all the others at that burial place were laid out straight.  This indicated to the examining archaeologists that the curled-up skeleton "lies in death as he did in life, bent and crippled by disease."  They surmised that he had become "paralyzed from the waist down" approximately 10 years before dying.

This discovery most likely means that "the people around him who had no metal and lived by fishing, hunting and raising barely domesticated pigs, took the time and care to tend to his every need."  It also suggests that "he himself had a sense of his own worth and a strong will to live."

Compassion is therefore not necessarily bound to the latest therapy, wonder drug, human-service agency, or government grant.  It can be as old as humanity and/or as young as this very moment.


Copyright December 20, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

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