Amputations were performed 30,000 years ago

The individual was amputated as a child with an amputated lower leg of his left leg, but still lived to the point of becoming an adult, in Borneo 31,000 years ago. Image credit: Jose Garcia

Scientists have recently found a human skeleton dating back 31,000 years in Borneo, and this person’s left foot has been amputated and recovered after the operation.

The finding suggests that advanced surgery emerged in tropical Asia thousands of years earlier than previously thought.

The study was published September 7 in the journal Nature.

Amputation requires a very comprehensive understanding of human anatomy and surgical hygiene, as well as a large number of surgical techniques. Before the development of modern clinical medicine (such as antimicrobials), most patients undergoing amputation surgery died of hemorrhagic shock or postoperative infection.

The most complex procedure previously known was performed by a French Neolithic farmer about 7,000 years ago who underwent an amputation of the left forearm and partially healed after the operation.

Tim Maloney and colleagues at Griffith University on Australia’s Gold Coast reported on the skeleton remains of a young individual found in Borneo who had had his lower leg surgically amputated at the time of the amputation, possibly as a child, all at least 31,000 years ago.

The researchers found that the man survived another 6 to 9 years after the operation and was eventually buried in a limestone cave in Liang Tebo, east of Kalimantan.

The researchers point out that people who perform left calf amputation for this person must have a good understanding of limb structure, muscles and blood vessels, and know how to prevent fatal blood loss and infection.

They speculate that the amputation of the person is less likely to have been caused by an animal attack or other accident, as such events generally result in comminuting fractures. Amputation is also unlikely to be a form of punishment, as amputees appear to have been carefully cared for and buried after surgery.

The results show that some early modern human foraging groups in Asia have mastered advanced medical knowledge and technology in the late Pleistocene rainforest environment.

The researchers believe that the extremely rapid rate of wound infection in tropical environments may have driven the emergence of new drugs, such as antimicrobials, which take advantage of Borneo’s biodiversity-rich plants and their medicinal value. (Source: China Science Daily Zhao Xixi)

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