The oldest operation is 30,000 years old (and the patient survived)

TIM MALONEY / AFP

TIM MALONEY / AFP

The bones from this surgical procedure were unearthed in March 2020 in the limestone cave of Liang Tebo in Indonesia.

SCIENCE – Child survived billiards and survived surgery more than 30,000 years ago: Oldest evidence of surgical amputation of skeleton found in cave in Indonesia, says expert study picking up history of medicine

The oldest evidence to date of such a surgical operation dates back 7,000 years, updated in 2010 at a Neolithic site in France (Seine-et-Marne): an amputation of an elderly man’s arm, apparently successful because imaging of the ancient bones showed signs of healing.

Scholars generally agree to link the advent of the first medicinal practices to the Neolithic Revolution around 10,000 years ago, when agriculture and sedentarism brought previously unknown health problems to light.

But the excavation of at least 31,000-year-old human remains in the Indonesian part of Borneo confounds that vision by revealing that hunter-gatherers were operating thousands of years earlier than estimated.

discovery “rewrites our understanding of this medical know-how”said paleontologist Tim Maloney of Griffith University in Australia, who led the study published on Wednesday Nature.

The bones were unearthed in 2020 in the imposing limestone cave of Liang Tebo, known for its cave paintings. Among the countless bats, terns, swifts and even a few scorpions that inhabited the site, the paleontologists carefully removed the layers of sediment and found the burial of a remarkably preserved skeleton.

He was only missing his left ankle and foot. The end of the remaining leg bone showed a cutout “sharp and oblique, which can be seen by looking through the bone”, described Tim Maloney during a press conference. An appearance that would have been less regular if the amputation had been caused by a fall or an animal attack.

So many references not to an accidental amputation but to a real medical decision.

anatomical knowledge

Even more surprising, the patient, who died around the age of twenty, appears to have survived between six and nine years after the procedure, as evidenced by the signs of bone healing observed under the microscope. It is also unlikely that the amputation was carried out as a punishment, as the child (or young juvenile) appears to have been treated with care after the operation and at the funeral.

“It requires a thorough knowledge of human anatomy, the muscular and vascular systems”, analyzes the study. The people who operated on the young teenager had to do it “Clean, disinfect and bandage the wound regularly” to prevent postoperative bleeding or infection that could lead to death.

The physical condition of the young amputee, debilitated and dependent, probably also forced those around him to care for him for six to nine years, testifying to the altruistic behavior of this group of hunter-gatherers.

These jobs “shed new light on care and treatment in the distant past and shake our view that these issues were not considered in prehistoric times”Charlotte Ann Roberts, an archaeologist at Britain’s University of Durham, responded in a commentary accompanying the study.

In terms of surgery, there are many prehistoric traces of trepanation, or tooth extraction. Limb amputations are extremely rare, however, as they are difficult to identify on poorly preserved bones.

After the discovery of Borneo, many questions remain unanswered: What happened next? Was the practice common? How did you ease the pain?

In the tropics, the rapidity of infections may have spurred the development of antiseptic products that exploit the medicinal properties of Borneo’s rich vegetation, the authors argue. They also suggest using a cut stone blade to work.

New excavations at Liang Tebo Cave are planned for next year in hopes of learning more about the people who populated it. “Conditions are ripe for startling new discoveries at this ‘hot spot’ of human evolution”says Renaud Joannes-Boyau, an associate professor at Southern Cross University (Australia) who helped date the skeleton.

See also on The HuffPost : This “vampire” skeleton was discovered with a sickle at its throat to prevent it from resurrecting

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