A man operated on a skull about 3,500 years ago | Sciences


A man worked on a skull about 3,500 years ago

02/26/2023, 06:22

| Reading time: 2 minutes

This close-up shows the skull with trepanation.

Photo: Rachel Kalischer/Dr

Tel Aviv
“Successful operation, dead patient”: This sentence seemed to have a certain meaning in the Bronze Age as well. Even then, people performed operations on the skull.

According to a study, people in the eastern Mediterranean were already undergoing surgery in the late Bronze Age. Remains at the archaeological site of Tel Megiddo in Israel indicate that so-called trepanning operations were already being carried out in the area at that time, a research team reports in the journal PLOS ONE.

This is a medical procedure that involves cutting a hole in the skull. Craniotomy, a similar method, is still used today to access the brain, for example in the case of brain tumors or increased intracranial pressure.

A piece of bone that is surgically removed

The research team led by Rachel Kalischer of Brown University in Providence (USA, Rhode Island) examined the remains of two upper-class men who lived about 1,500 years before Christ and who were possible siblings. Accordingly, one of them had a square hole about three centimeters in size in the frontal bone of the skull.

The piece of bone may have been surgically removed. According to bone analysis, both brothers have been seriously ill for a long time. One died as an older teen or early 20s, and the other between the ages of 21 and 46. They may have succumbed to an infectious disease such as tuberculosis or leprosy.

Scientists also found remains of high-quality food and fine earthenware in the tomb of the two men. This indicates that they belonged to the upper class and that despite their illness they were not excluded. “This is an important case study to further explore the intersection of condition, disease and treatment in communities over time,” she said.

Not a good outcome for the patient

The research team believes that the surgery may have been an intervention in the declining health. However, the lack of bone healing indicates that the man died during or shortly after the operation.

Kalischer explained that there are only a few finds in the Middle East that indicate trepanation at the time. It is also unclear why some of the holes are round – indicating the use of some type of drill – while others are square or triangular. So it is also not known which diseases should be treated in this way.

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