The lower leg amputation of a hunter-gatherer boy from Borneo 31,000 years ago is the oldest on record. The surgeon who undertook the operation was especially skilled, as the boy was able to live for about 6-9 years after removal.
“It was a great surprise that this former forager survived a very serious and life-threatening childhood operation, that the wound healed to form a stump, and that he then lived for years in mountainous terrain with impaired mobility,” he said. Melandri Vlok, co-author of the study published in Nature , a bioarchaeologist and postdoctoral research associate at the University of Sydney, said in a statement. “[This suggests] a high degree of community care”
The skeletal remains of the young man were found inside a limestone cave known as Liang Tebo, in the Indonesian part of Borneo, while an archaeological excavation was being carried out in 2020. The cave is difficult to access as it can only be entered going by boat and at certain times of the year.
The boy had his lower leg removed, including his foot. As the researchers point out, it was “removed by deliberate surgical amputation.” “Telling bone growths related to scarring” lend weight to this idea rather than that it was the result of an animal attack or other accident. What the researchers still cannot explain is why the operation was necessary.
Until now it was thought that the first amputation ever performed on a human was that of a Stone Age farmer 7,000 years ago , who had his left forearm surgically removed, according to a 2007 study published in Nature Precedings. . Experts believed that before this date, humans would not have had the necessary knowledge or tools to successfully undertake this type of complex surgery. However, the new finding is evidence that humans “must have had a detailed knowledge of the anatomy of the extremities and of the muscular and vascular systems,” according to the new study.
“What the new Borneo finding shows is that humans already had the ability to successfully amputate diseased or damaged limbs long before we started farming and living in permanent settlements,” study co-author Dr. Maxime Aubert, archaeologist and geochemist at Griffith University (Australia).
Investigators would not yet be able to say whether the Borneo boy’s operation was an isolated amputation or whether more similar operations were done on the island, in other parts of Asia or even in the rest of the world. Surgical amputations as we know them today became common procedures after surgeon Joseph Lister discovered antiseptics in the late 19th century.
“In light of the much younger age of these earlier finds, the discovery of a 31,000-year-old amputee in Borneo clearly has important implications for our understanding of the history of medicine,” the study’s lead author said in the statement. , Tim Maloney, archeology researcher at Griffith University.
This discovery also sheds light on what life might have been like for Ice Age hunter-gatherers in Indonesia.
Referencia: Maloney, T.R., Dilkes-Hall, I.E., Vlok, M. et al. 2022. Surgical amputation of a limb 31,000 years ago in Borneo. Nature. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-05160-8