Carl Zimmer has a thoughtful take on the issues raised by a New York Times story this week on the First Chapter for the History of Medicine.
The NYT story talks about a 3,500-year-old painting showing the medicinal use of a plant, saying the researchers have “pushed back by hundreds of years the earliest use of a medicinal plant.” Says Zimmer, one of the most interesting writers on evolution these days (and thank heavens he’s blogging!), “Whoa.”
He suggests there is evidence that our hominid ancestors were using plants as medicines before we were human, before our brains got big. We did it, he argues, and only later had ideas about what it might mean. “Looking for the dawn of medicine in archaeology, rather than in human evolution, is like looking for stars through the wrong end of a telescope.”