This project (2018-1-ES01-KA203-050606) has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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Educational Material

Unit 1 - History of Pre-Columbian and Inca Medicine in Peru


1.1 Topic Description
Pre-Columbian medicine history is similar in several Latin Amercian countries, with a common shared worldview, in which health was the perfect equilibrium berween physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. This medicine had a magical-religious nature added to important medical knowledge. Pre-Columbian medicine is recognized worldwide due to its tremendous contribution in the use of medicinal plants, the quality of its cranial surgeries, and the important role of the shaman in individual and community health care and the empirical knowledge of various diseases.

Pre-Columbian cultures were constantly at war, with civilized cultures dating from 2000 BC. The most advanced cultures were: the Chavin-Sechin (900 to 200 BC), the Huari-Tiahuanaco (750 BC to 1000 AD), and the Moche-Chimú culture (200 BC to 1400 AD) (Marino and Portillo, 2000).

The evidence of Pre-Columbian medicine is diverse, being protected and preserved in various museums and archaeological sites, especially in Peru. Many of these evidences are mummies, ceramic vessels, clothing, metal instruments for medical and war purposes, ceramic huacos, gold and silver pieces, various skeletal remains, remains of trepanned skulls, coprolites, chronicles, books, jewelry and statues. All represent the life and medicine of these populations. At present, several of these sources are still being studied, with diagnostic aids such as molecular and radiological studies to identify the source of this pre-Columbian knowledge through science.

The traditions and knowledge of the healers and shamans of the pre-Columbian cultures have been preserved from generation to generation, establishing the foundations for intercultural medicine, natural medicine, but also left a legacy for current infectology, anesthesiology and neurosurgery.

The history of Pre-Columbian Medicine also reveals that there were several specialists who practiced this medicine, such as Hampicamayoc, who was the official doctor in charge of medicines and medicinal plants. "He looked a bit like the European doctor of that time and was the most important healer type"(Jan GR Elferink, 2015). On the other hand, there were shaman healers who treated diseases not only with medicinal plants but also with religious magic. Also, there were skilled surgeons, who performed various surgeries that included cranial trepanations with low mortality. In this unit we will explore the results from studies of paloepathology that show the expertise of surgeons in cranial trephinations, bone deformations and in the use of medicinal plants. These plants served as anesthetics and prevented infection and inflammation, which resulted in their high surgery success rates.

An important contribution that pre-Columbian medicine left us was the doctor-patient relationship, in which the patient had an active role in their healing rituals and use of psychoactive substances. These rituals had self-knowledge reach by patients as the main pillar for constructing a diagnosis and adherence to treatment and following recommendations. In this relationship, the shaman healers, accompanied with rituals using medicinal and psychoactive plants. They knew the native species and their effects for each disease due to their preparation with transmission of ancestral knowledge from generation to generation.

Finally, this Unit presents the findings of the Juanita Mummy, also known as the "Lady of Ampato", considered one of the best preserved mummies in the world, whose body is protected in the "Museum of Andean Sanctuaries" in the city of Arequipa, Peru. It is considered an open book, which hopes that science will study to continue giving testimony of our pre-Columbian history.

The main objective of the unit is to develop the competences of medical students on general aspects of the history of pre-Columbian medicine in South America.

The methodology to be used in this unit is in accordance with the ALCMAEON project, which uses the object-based learning approach. This approach has been chosen because it will allow medical students to obtain valuable information on the reality of the origins of pre-Columbian medicine through representations and objects that improve understanding.

Educational materials prepared for the related medical student to acquire competencies on The history of pre-Columbian and Inca medicines in Peru are presented. The didactic contents are:
  1. General aspects of pre-Columbian and Inca medicine.
  2. Main diseases present in pre-Columbian cultures and Inca empire of Peru.
  3. Specific aspects of the trepanations and cranial deformations in the pre-Columbian cultures and Inca empire of Peru.
  4. Specific aspects of the conservation and research of mummies in ancient Peru.
On the “General aspects of pre-Columbian and Inca medicine”, the objects shared in this unit allow us to know how the relationship of the patients, their pre-Columbian doctors and their environment were, as well as to know about their worldview, the diseases that affected to these populations, the work of ancient doctors called shamans and healers, as well as the important role of nature to provide medicinal plants, for treatments in this medicine.
The achievements of the history of Pre-Columbian Medicine were better reflected through ceramics and goldsmithing, pieces that described various diseases when analyzed, which demonstrate the observation of clinical signs of different etiology.

We hope to achieve an active learning, in which the role of the student is fundamental, for the integration of the theoretical concepts, with the shared visual objects (videos, photos of ceramics, photos of mummified remains, photos of goldsmith pieces, photos of skeletal remains with trepanations, photos of modified skulls, updated scientific articles, chronicles of writers that showed how the Incas recovered with shamanic medicine, virtual tours of museums, among others), which are without a doubt the most important evidence of the existence of this medicine.

About “Main diseases present in pre-Columbian cultures and Inca empire of Peru”, the object-based learning approach allows us to analyze these evidences to place us in the context in which diseases occurred in pre-Columbian times, as well as in the evaluation of clinical reasoning for shaman doctors, healers and midwives.

It will be a pedagogical experience, transporting students to pre-Columbian times, so that based on the observation and interpretation of the shared visual elements, they can have an idea and construct explanations, about how the ancient shaman doctors and healers could reach adequate diagnoses of diseases, based on clinical observation.

The object-based learning approach will also allow us to learn about the important and effective doctor-patient relationship, which meant knowing in an integral way the ailments of their patients as well as the factors to which they attributed their disease.

On the ”Specific aspects of the trepanations and cranial deformations in the pre-Columbian cultures and Inca empire of Peru”, students will be able to see the efficacy achieved in surgery by the observation of objects such as the remains of skull trepanations.

The use of the digital museum, with the exhibition of objects collected as evidence of the existence of pre-Columbian medicine in South America, will reveal various aspects. For example, we will present photos of remains of skulls with bone growth after the trepanations, and discuss the scientific evidence to show the technique, care to mitigate pain and prevent infections based on the use of medicinal plants. Parts of the objects to share are medicinal plants, which were available to pre-Columbian healers and shamans, who healed with a mixture of medicinal plants and magical religious ceremonies.

About the “Specific aspects of the conservation and research of mummies in ancient Peru”, the exhibition of objects collected from mummies, will enhance the students' skills required for observing and interpreting the meaning of life and death in these pre-Columbian cultures, which included rituals to protect their dead, preserve them as mummies, among others.

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