Can you imagine what medical treatment looked like 5,000 years ago? What was “surgery” like with stone instruments?
In 2018, archeologists uncovered a skull that shows evidence of the earliest known otologic skull-based surgery (Díaz-Navarro et al, 2022; Ouellette, 2022). The skull was uncovered in a tomb from the Dolmen of El Pendón on the Iberian Peninsula. Forensic analysis determined that the most likely reason for the surgery was to treat middle-ear infections or mastoiditis.
What is amazing is that this person had similar surgeries on both ears, and survived, as there was evidence of healthy bone growth and no sign of further infection. Further analysis revealed that the skull was of a woman who had most likely died of advanced age (65 years).
The archeologists arrived at this conclusion due to signs of significant teeth deterioration and thyroid cartilage ossification. A flint blade, with evidence of exposure to extreme heat, was located in the vicinity, suggesting that cauterization techniques may have been used for various treatments.
For more insight into Neolithic medical treatments and the specific archeological dig that unearthed this finding, review the articles in the reference section.
Díaz-Navarro S, Tejedor-Rodríguez C, Arcusa-Magallón H, et al. (2022) The first otologic surgery in a skull from El Pendón site (Reinoso, Northern Spain). Sci Rep 12(1):1–10.
Ouellette J. (2022) This 5,300-year-old skull shows evidence of the earliest known ear surgery. Ars Technica.
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