The extraordinary research of the BCA
I sent an email to the British Chiropractic Association’s enquiries email account recently.
I read with interest that the use of manipulation is documented ‘as far back as 2700–1500 BC in China and Greece.’ Could you point me to the documentation for Greece? I’m researching the use of ancient history in justifications for complimentary medicine and I’m not familiar with any such documents. It would be helpful to know about them in my search for other medical texts.
I got a reply. There’s not a lot of evidence.
One possibility is that a fourth century BC tablet from Piraeus might show chiropractic-style treatment. The BCA’s enquiry person kindly linked to a page showing the tablet, which you can find listed as Votive relief to Asclepius, Piraeus Museum, catalogue number 405. As for documentation, I’ll quote: “Greek documents on manipulation from pre-Hippocratic times are more difficult — I don’t know of any (but that does not mean that they do not exist).”
This is interesting because the British Chiropractic Association have quietly announced the ancient history story of the decade. This even beats the Antikythera Mechanism as major news. Here’s the line:
The use of manipulation is documented as far back as 2700–1500 BC in China and Greece.
I’m not an expert on Chinese writing. I thought there was some nationalist vying with the Egyptians as to who had the oldest writing. The books I’ve found give dates of 1200 BC (Bagley 2004, p. 190) or The 14th to 11th centuries BC, with a possible predecessor around the 17th century BC (Norman 1988 p. 58). It would seem that the BCA have access to some previously unknown examples of Chinese writing, but that’s not even half the news.
They also have documentation from Greece in this 2700 BC to 1500 BC band. I don’t know of any 2700 BC writing from Greece, but there’s certainly a script known from around 1800 BC-ish. It’s not actually Greek script. That doesn’t really make an appearance till around the 8th century BC. Earlier than that you have Linear B. Linear B dates from the Mycenaean era. Deciphering Linear B is one of the great stories in ancient history, the bulk of it was done by the mathematician Michael Ventris in the early 1950s. But Linear B dates from the 15th century BC at the very oldest. That’s the 1400s BC, so it can’t be that the British Chiropractic Association is referring to. Still older, there’s Linear A.
Linear A is associated with the Minoan civilisation on Crete. It uses similar symbols to Linear B, but if the symbols have the same sounds, then it is a record of a language unlike any known language. If you want to be a big name ancient history then you could decipher it. Unless you’re too late, because this is what is so staggering about the British Chiropractic Association’s claim. It’s not simply that they may have discovered previously unknown writing in China. It’s the fact they’re able to decipher what these ancient texts means. Often early texts are tax records or similar which only exist in fragments. That these unknown texts should describe skilled medical treatments is stunning. Finding claims like casually announced on the BCA’s website is as amazing as discovering your neighbour has built a time machine in her garden shed.
An alternative, and I hesitate to bring this up because the British Chiropractic Association are notoriously litigious, is that their claim is nonsense. I’m not saying that it is because there are few organisations with the reputation for upright scientific behaviour enjoyed by the British Chiropractic Association. But purely hypothetically, let’s say that these texts didn’t exist. How would those claims get onto the website? The only way I could see would be if someone made them up. Now I’ll admit the word bogus is sailing into view. Such a claim would not be bogus, under English law, because it wouldn’t be intentionally dishonest. It could be written by someone entirely indifferent as to whether or not they were honest.
No, to find a bogus claim, what you’d have to send an email to their organisation, saying that they’re making an odd claim, have a reply back saying they don’t know of any evidence for what they claim and then find they’re still making the same claim on their webpage. That might be bogus because that would mean they are aware it’s a false claim, but still state it anyway. An exact legal opinion on the claim’s bogosity could vary depending on how expensive your lawyer is.
BUT — we know the BCA don’t make bogus claims, there’s a big court case going on defending their reputation. That’s how we know that the BCA must be sitting on one of the biggest archaeological and historical stories of the century.
If you’re interested in what is or is not a bogus claim, you might like to search for Simon Singh on Jack of Kent’s weblog.
References — ISBN links take you to Worldcat.
Bagley, R.W. (2004) ‘Anyang Writing and the Origin of the Chinese writing system’ in S.D. Houston (editor) The first writing: script invention as history and process. Cambridge University Press . pp 190–249. ISBN 0521838614
Norman, J. (1988) Chinese. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521296536