Oldest evidence of limb amputation found in Borneo
September 7, 2022 - The discovery of the skeleton of a young individual, dating back around 31,000 years, reveals that modern humans developed sophisticated medical knowledge earlier than previously recorded.
Writing in Nature, researcher Tim Maloney and colleagues from Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, report the earliest known use of surgery – the successful amputation of the foot and partial removal of the lower leg of a child who lived at least 31,000 years ago, in Borneo.
Evidence suggests he survived the procedure and lived for another 6-9 years before his intentional burial in Liang Tebo cave, located in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. The authors indicate that the ‘surgeon(s)’ must have had detailed knowledge of limb anatomy, muscular and vascular systems to prevent fatal blood loss and infection.
They suggest that the amputation was unlikely to have been caused by an animal attack or other accident, as these typically cause crushing fractures.
This new discovery challenges the prevailing view regarding the evolution of medicine. According to this view, the emergence of settled agricultural societies around 10,000 years ago (the Neolithic Revolution) stimulated the first major innovations in prehistoric medical practices.
Previously, the oldest known complex operation happened to a Neolithic farmer from France about 7,000 years ago, whose left forearm was surgically removed.