by Jean Clottes, Jean Courtin, Luc Vanrell
Prehistoric Images and Medicines Under the Sea
We have researched the uses to which calcium carbonate powder from broken stalactites and stalagmites as well as mondmilch have been put in the course of history (see Shaw in Hill & Forti 1997, Clottes, Courtin, Vanrell 2005). The oldest uses known in pharmacopeias are in China (stalactites and stalagmites) (4th and 1st century BC). As late as in the 19th century in China and in the 18th in Europe (including mondmilch), they were consistently used as medicines for all sorts of ailments and treatments: treatment of fevers (to encourage sweating), heart conditions (when diet was poor in calcium), to stop bleeding, to curb diarrhea, for the relief of cough, and to aid the production of milk in wet-nurses, for strengthening broken bones, for drying up of abscesses, ulcers and wounds. Even nowadays, calcium carbonate (CaCo3) is widely used for osteoporosis (together with D vitamin), to help with bone regeneration and for problems relating to growth, for pregnant women and feeding mothers, to relieve tiredness, etc.
Originally, about 27,000 years ago, people scraped powder from the walls and took away fragments of stalactites and stalagmites from the deeper parts of the cave probably because they believed that these stones were charged with supernatural power. The fact that the poultices and/or medicines did work in some cases cannot have passed unnoticed and this no doubt accounts for the long continuance of the practice. We may have in the Cosquer Cave, associated to abundant rock art, the very first concrete example of the making of specific medicines in the history of the world.
→ Cosquer Cave Art
→ France Rock Art Archive
→ Bradshaw Foundation
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