Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Finding of stone age amputee shows Neolithic medicine more skilled than scientists believed

From The Telegraph in the UK:

Early Neolithic surgeons used a sharpened flint stone and rudimentary anaesthetics to amputate the elderly man’s left forearm, and treated the wound in sterile conditions, experts believe.

Evidence of the early surgery was unearthed by C├ęcile Buquet-Marcon and Anaick Samzun, both archaeologists, and Philippe Charlier, a forensic scientist, during work on a tomb discovered at Buthiers-Boulancourt, about 40 miles south of Paris.

The man, who lived in the Linearbandkeramik period, when European hunter-gatherers began subsistence farming, was found to be missing his forearm and hand bones.

Tests showed that the humerus bone had been severed above the elbow in what scientists described as “an intentional and successful amputation”.

The patient, who is likely to have been a warrior, is thought likely to have damaged his arm in a fall, animal attack or battle.

Pain-killing plants such as the hallucinogenic Datura are likely to have been used in the operation, and the wound was probably cleaned using antiseptic herbs like sage, the scientists said.

“I don’t think you could say that those who carried out the operation were doctors in the modern sense that they did only that, but they obviously had medical knowledge,” Mrs Buquet-Marcon said.

Researchers have also recently reported signs of two other Neolithic amputations in Germany and the Czech Republic.

Stone Age doctors were previously known to have performed trephinations, making incisions in the skull, but not amputations.