What can the archaeological and ethnohistorical records tell us about the way people adapt their health beliefs and attitudes to illness in the face of war, dislocation and persecution?

‘MEDICINE’ is a project funded under the EC Horizon 2020 Marie-Sklodowska Curie Actions, to determine concepts of health and healing from a culturally specific indigenous context, using a framework of interdisciplinary methods which integrates archaeological-historical, ethnographic and modern health sciences approaches. The study will generate new theoretical and methodological approaches to model how peoples survive and adapt their traditional belief systems in a context of alien cultural impacts. The project explores concepts and pathways of ancestral belief systems that survive into the modern world and seeks to maintain a link between traditional indigenous approaches which are integral to understanding health conditions for the individual within their socio-cultural context, and modern approaches to medicine and health sciences.

New conceptual models of Andean understandings of health, illness and healing, and the ways these have adapted and changed through time, will be used to develop a ‘bridging tool’ transferable to contemporary global policy scenarios relevant to marginalised and migrant peoples and provide a means through which their traditional health beliefs and current needs may be more appropriately understood and met. The study offers a novel perspective and methods in the development policies sensitive to indigenous and minority people’s health needs.

South America


About the Project

The idea of ‘MEDICINE’ evolved from the alignment of two principal sources:

  1. The Experienced Researcher Elizabeth Currie’s lifelong interest and work in pre-Colombian and early colonial period archaeology and ethnohistory of South America, and traditional indigenous Amerindian culture in particular, and the PI John Scofield’s interest in Traditional Medicine as a part of the developing global agenda in recognising and protecting Intangible Cultural Heritage.
  2. The contemporary global refugee and migrant peoples’ humanitarian crisis.

The MEDICINE project

MEDICINE will develop a conceptual ‘bridge’ from the study population to generate a trans-cultural model for use with peoples from migrant or marginalised backgrounds in contemporary global scenarios that informs best practice for the integration of their traditional beliefs into modern health and social care provision.

The development of this conceptual bridge will eventually lead via the development of a Transferable Policy Tool” into the global policy setting arena.

About the Project Region

The Andean landscape

In the Andean region, the mosaic of indigenous communities is complex. The different ethnic groups are descendants of pre-Columbian Amerindian peoples who experienced the cultural trauma of the conquest by Spain in the 16th century, and of a series of subsequent major impacts of disease, miscegenation, and religious persecution. They have an historical experience of marginalisation, exploitation, social and health inequalities which is still manifest in their present lifeways.

In Ecuador, the indigenous population is about 7% of the total population and half are classified as ‘poor’, with inadequate access to modern health care. Many are still dependent upon traditional forms of healing. Despite concerted attempts at eradication by the Catholic Church, many Andean peoples retain substantial relicts of an ancestral belief system and understandings of the world, of the nature of illness and its manner of treatment. Specialists in techniques of magical healing - curanderos or shamans - still provide their communities with a holistic approach to the treatment of illness, and shamanic healing rites actively sustain the myths central to the society’s culture.

Stages of Work

There are three stages of work leading to the overall goal of developing a transferable practitioners’ and policy makers’ ‘tool’:

Stage 1 (completed) in the first year of the project’s life undertook a comprehensive review and analysis of archaeological, ethnohistorical, and ethnographic materials in order to generate health beliefs (within an overall cosmological/ontological belief system) of indigenous Andean people that had survived from pre-Columbian (pre-Spanish) times into the colonial periods. One of the key ways of exploring the indigenous worldview is to read the surviving archival accounts of the persecution of traditional religious specialists during the 17th and 18th century Jesuit-led campaign to eradicate Andean religion and impose the orthodox Catholic Christianity upon the conquered peoples. Visits were made to three important historical archives: in Seville, Spain (Archivo General de Indias https://www.andeanmedicine.net/blog/archivo-general-de-indias-seville-14...), Quito (Archivo Nacional del Ecuador) and the Historical Archive of the Archbishopric of Lima, Peru (Archivo Histórico Arzobispal de Lima) where original documents were consulted which provided important accounts that, albeit filtered from original Quechua (indigenous Andean language) into Spanish, provided an important view of the nature of the belief systems of Andean peoples (https://www.andeanmedicine.net/blog/curanderas-tale-story-juana-icha-149...). This stage generated core beliefs of indigenous Andean peoples relating to conditions of life, death, health, illness and healing. These were refined to develop into a Health Beliefs and Practices Questionnaire to be taken into three contemporary indigenous Andean communities in highland Ecuador, to determine the survival of these ancestral belief systems into the present.
Stage 2 (completed) represented the main stage of the fieldwork conducting the survey of contemporary indigenous Andean people in the three selected communities of: Salasaka, Zuleta and Ugsha. These findings were then built into a data base comprising the main corpus of qualitative data (via inteviews responses) and quantitative (responses coded and amenable to statistical analysis). The main sections of the website: Ethnicity and Cultural Identity (https://www.andeanmedicine.net/ethnicity-and-cultural-identity) Health Beliefs (https://www.andeanmedicine.net/andean-beliefs-about-health-illness-and-h...) Traditional Healers (https://www.andeanmedicine.net/yachaks-curanderos-and-parteras) and Traditional versus Modern Health Care Use (https://www.andeanmedicine.net/traditional-versus-modern-health-care) present the main survey findings.
Stage 3 (in progress) is the stage where information from the survey Stage 2 is used to generate models about the way people construct their understandings about health, illness and healing, and how these fit within their broader understandings of ‘reality’ and life as a whole. A conceptual ‘bridge’ from the study population will be developed to generate a trans-cultural model for use with peoples from migrant or marginalised backgrounds in contemporary global population displacement scenarios that informs best practice for the integration of their traditional beliefs into modern health and social care provision. The development of this conceptual bridge will eventually lead, via the development of Transferable Policy and Practitioners' Tools”, into the global policy setting arena. It is planned to work with such agencies in EC countries in the coming months to take this work forward to realising the long term project goals.

Model of Andean beliefs related to states of 'being' and "health'


Throughout the course of the project, Elizabeth Currie has attended a number of international conferences to present papers dealing with different aspects of the work, as the project progressed. Other aspects of the dissemination of project findings are two published papers( see below), with others in the process of preparation and one currently submitted for publication and undergoing review. The blogs in this website have recorded informally every aspect of the fieldwork and the dissemination process as they progressed https://www.andeanmedicine.net/blog


Albuquerque, NM, USA. 10-14 April, 2019. Elizabeth Currie and John Schofield. "Runa. Indigenous identity and heritage in the 21st century". Paper to be presented to the 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.
Nsukka, Nigeria 9-12 December, 2018. Elizabeth Currie. “How we lost ourselves. Nature of being and constructions of self in autochthonous Andean society under the imposition of Spanish colonialism in the Americas.” Paper presented to the 2018 AfrisCon, University of Nigeria at Nsukka.
Edinburgh 17-19 May, 2018. Elizabeth Currie, John Schofield (University of York), Diego Quiroga and Fernando Ortega P. (USFQ, Ecuador). “Indigenous Concepts of Health and Healing In Andean Populations. How to Model Health Beliefs and Practices for the Development of Equitable Health Policies Relevant to Refugee, Migrant and First Nations Peoples.” Paper presented at the First World Congress on Migration, Ethnicity, Race and Health. Diversity and Health. Abstract In The European Journal of Public Health: https://academic.oup.com/eurpub/article-abstract/28/suppl_1/cky047.194/4... https://www.andeanmedicine.net/blog/medicine-dissemination-and-next-stag...
Washington DC, USA, 11-15 April, 2018. Elizabeth Currie and Diego Quiroga, USFQ, Quito, Ecuador. “How to invent your past. Cultural appropriation or adaptation of orphan cultural identity? Paper presented at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. Currie, E. J. & Quiroga, D., Apr 2018, (Unpublished) The Digital Archaeological Record tDAR id: 443202. Society for American Archaeology https://www.andeanmedicine.net/blog/82nd-annual-meeting-society-american...
Amsterdam, Naarden The Netherlands. 14-15 May, 2017. Elizabeth Currie and Fernando Ortega P. (USFQ, Ecuador). “Ethic Andean Concepts of Health and Illness in the Post-Colombian World and Its Relevance Today”. Paper presented at the 19th International Conference on Ethnomedicine and Traditional Medicine. https://www.andeanmedicine.net/blog/19th-international-conference-ethnom...
Vancouver, BC. Canada. 28 March – 2nd April, 2017. “The Antiquity and Persistence of Traditional Health Beliefs and Practices in the Northern Andes”. Paper presented at the 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.
Nashville, Tennessee, USA 9-12 November, 2016. "The Shoreline: Conceptual boundaries between land and sea in pre-Colombian Andean cosmologies". Paper presented at the American Society for Ethnohistory: ‘Ethnohistories of Native Space'.


First Project Workshop, Galápagos Academic Institute of Arts and Sciences, San Cristóbal, Galápagos, 24th-25th July, 2017 https://www.andeanmedicine.net/blog/first-project-workshop-galapagos-aca...


Currie, E.J, J. Schofield, F. Ortega P. and D. Quiroga. 2018. “Health beliefs, healing practices and medico-ritual frameworks in the Ecuadorian Andes: the continuity of an ancient tradition.” World Archaeology, DOI: 10.1080/00438243.2018.1474799. To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.2018.1474799
Currie, E.J., F. Ortega Perez. 2017. “Ethnic Andean Concepts of Health and Illness in the Post-Colombian World and Its Relevance Today”. International Journal of Medical, Health, Biomedical, Bioengineering and Pharmaceutical Engineering,11,5: 236-242.

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