Researchers Discover Evidence Of 7,000-Year-Old Head Surgery

Researchers in North Africa have made another remarkable discovery during excavations in a Neolithic Settlement in Omdurman in Sudan. Experts dug up a skeleton with signs of trepanation – a drilling hole in the skull – dating back 7,000 years.

Girl skull, trepanated with flint tools; neolithic (3500 BC) ; patient survived. Natural History Museum, Lausanne ( CC BY SA 2.0 )
July 13, 2016

Officially, it is the oldest known case of ‘head surgery’ of a skull in Northern Africa.

The stunning discovery was made by a group of researchers led by Dr Maciej Jórdeczka from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology (IAE) PAS in Pozna while they were excavating the ancient Khor Shambat settlement located in the vicinity of the River Nile. The area was believed to have been inhabited since the Khartoum Mesolithic period.

Website reports that the skull showing signs of trepanation dates back to the 5th and 4th millennium BC.

“The dead were then buried within the settlement – it was a widely practiced custom” – told PAP Dr. Maciej Jórdeczka from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology (IAE) PAS in Poznań.

According to experts, the skull belonged to a man who died between the ages 55 and 65, quite an advanced life period for that period in history. The man suffered a number of diseases typical at that age.

Trepanation is a medical procedure that consists of making a hole in the skull for medical purposes and doctors today still practice it.

Interestingly, in ancient times this procedure was done not only for medical purposes but also for magical and religious purposes.,

Experts are unsure as to why this man might have undergone the procedure which resulted in a 2cm-wide hole in the skull.

Dr Łukasz Maurycy Stanaszek, an anthropologist from the National Archaeological Museum in Warsaw, suggests that the man did not survive the procedure and that evidence is the wound which did not heal.

Dr Stanaszekpointed out that the hole had been made expertly and special tools like, knives drill and flint-bone scrapers were used.

“Trepanation is not the only reason why this is an interesting burial” – Dr. Jórdeczka told PAP.

The man’s body was covered in ochre, a reddish material which was used by ancient cultures as a dye among other things. The deceased was positioned in a foetal posture, strongly compressed and his knees were pulled up to his forehead, reports website

“The real treasure for us is the ability to trace the layers formed by human activity over thousands of years. In the case of central Sudan it is an exception – the vast majority of sites, both Mesolithic and Neolithic, has no stratigraphy. Khor Shambat will, therefore, give us a new perspective of the settlement chronology” – added Dr. Jórdeczka.

Evidence of Trepanation of skulls was present in many ancient cultures around the globe. From Asia to the Americas, thousands of years ago, ancient cultures performed highly complicated and ‘advanced’ medical procedures.

Journal Reference:


Ancient Origins

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