A skeleton discovered in a remote corner of Borneo rewrites the annals of ancient medicine and proves amputation surgery was successfully completed about 31,000 years back, scientists said Wednesday.
Previously, the initial known amputation involved a 7,000-year-old skeleton within France, and experts believed such operations only emerged in settled agricultural societies.
The finding also shows that Stone Age hunter-gatherers surviving in what’s now Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province had sophisticated medical understanding of anatomy and wound treatment.
“It rewrites our knowledge of the development of the medical knowledge,” said Tim Maloney, a study fellow at Australia’s Griffith University, who led the task.
The skeleton was uncovered in 2020 in the imposing Liang Tebo cave known because of its wall paintings dating back to 40,000 years.
Surrounded by bats, terns and swiftlets, and interrupted by the casual scorpion, scientists painstakingly removed sediment to reveal an astoundingly well-preserved skeleton.
It had been missing just one single notable feature: its left ankle and foot.
The bottom of the rest of the leg bone had a surprising shape, with knobbly regrowth over an apparently clean break, strongly indicating that the ankle and foot were removed deliberately.
“It is rather neat and oblique, it is possible to start to see the surface and form of the incision through the bone,” Maloney told a press briefing.
Other explanations, as an animal attack, crushing injury, or fall, could have created bone fractures and healing not the same as those observed in the skeleton’s leg.
A tooth and surrounding sediment showed the skeleton reaches least 31,000 yrs . old and belongs to someone who died at around 20 yrs . old.
Regardless of the incredible trauma of amputation, they may actually have survived six to nine years following the operation, in line with the regrowth on the leg bone, and suffered no major post-operative infection.
That suggests “detailed understanding of limb anatomy and muscular and vascular systems,” the study team wrote in a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
“Intensive post-operative nursing and care could have been vital… the wound could have regularly been cleaned, dressed and disinfected.”
‘A hotspot of human evolution’
Humans have already been operating on one another for years and years, pulling teeth and drilling skull holes in an activity called trepanation.
But amputation is indeed complex that in the West it only became a surgical procedure people could reasonably desire to survive in regards to a century ago.
The oldest previous example was a 7,000-year-old skeleton with a forearm within France in 2010.
It seemed to concur that humans only developed sophisticated surgery after settling in agricultural societies, free of the daily grind of hunting food.
However the Borneo find demonstrates hunter-gatherers may possibly also navigate the challenges of surgery, and did so at the very least 24,000 years sooner than once thought.
For several that the skeleton reveals, many questions remain: how was the amputation completed and why? That which was useful for pain or even to prevent infection? Was this operation rare or perhaps a more prevalent practice?
The team speculates a surgeon may have used a lithic blade, whittled from stone, and the city may have accessed rainforest plants with medicinal properties.
The analysis “provides us with a view of the implementation of care and treatment in the distant past,” wrote Charlotte Ann Roberts, an archeologist at Durham University, who was simply not mixed up in research.
It “challenges the perception that provision of care had not been considered in prehistoric times,” she wrote in an assessment in Nature.
Further excavation is expected next year at Liang Tebo, with the expectation of learning more concerning the individuals who lived there.
“That is a really hotspot of human evolution and archeology,” said Renaud Joannes-Boyau, a co-employee professor at Southern Cross University who helped date the skeleton.
“It’s certainly getting warmer and warmer, and the conditions are actually aligned to possess more amazing discoveries later on.”
More info: Tim Ryan Maloney et al, Surgical amputation of a limb 31,000 years back in Borneo, Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-05160-8
Citation: Ancient skeleton reveals amputation surgery 31,000 years back (2022, September 11) retrieved 12 September 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-09-ancient-skeleton-reveals-amputation-surgery.html
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