Given it’s long history, is there a possibility that the practice of acupuncture pre-dates its formal use in traditional Chinese medicine?
By: Ringo Bones
When the mummified remains of a 5,300 year-old “ice man” was discovered in the warm summer back in 1991 in the Niederjoch Glacier, above the Ötz Valley in the Tyrolean Alps. Little did the first responding archeologist knew the impact of their discovery would create on what we then assumed so far of what we supposedly knew of our prehistoric ancestors. It was only nine years after the discovery of Ötzi – named after the place in which our 5,300 year-old mummified “ice man” was discovered – that two Austrian physiologist found out that Ötzi’s people might be practicing a form of acupuncture. One that even pre-dates the one established in traditional Chinese medicine by a few centuries.
After archeologists had concluded that Ötzi’s possessions were of Early Copper Age in origin via various dating methods, they became curious about Ötzi’s strange ornate tattoos. When the tattoos were examined by Max Moser, a physiologist at the University of Graz in Austria, together with his collegue Leopold Dorfer. The two became curious when Ötzi’s tattoo patterns resembles those of traditional acupuncture points used to treat backache and stomach upset. Ötzi’s back, right knee, and left ankle were adorned with 15 groups of short, bluish-black lines closely resembling the various meridian-points of traditional Chinese acupuncture. Injecting wood ash through the skin via a bone or wooden needle was probably how Ötzi’s tattoos were made.
The two Austrian physiologists even became more curious because Ötzi lived some 2,000 years before the oldest generally recognized evidence of acupuncture. Thus raising questions whether the now trendy form of alternative medicine – namely Chinese acupuncture – originally started in mainland Europe as opposed to China. Although the jury is still out, Max Moser thinks the history of acupuncture may have been more complicated than we currently assumed. He concludes that back when Ötzi was around, many various shamanistic cultures that lie between mainland Europe and China might have practiced it. But it was probably the one formalized by the practitioners of Chinese traditional medicine that managed to survive until modern times.
Given that the absence of our present-day “hazards” that lie between mainland Europe and China – namely less-than-democratic nation-states and undocumented anti-personnel mines – Ötzi could have easily braved the natural hazards of his day like wild animals and inclement weather. And might have been a frequent traveler between Europe and China, a few thousand years before Marco Polo’s famous trip.