The skull of a 2,000-year-old Peruvian warrior has been found to have been fused with metal in one of the world’s oldest examples of advanced surgery in ancient times, according to a museum.
The Oklahoma Museum of Osteology says the skull, found in its collection, is that of a man who was wounded during battle before undergoing some of the earliest forms of surgery to implant a piece of metal in his head and repair the fracture
Experts told the Daily Star that the man survived the surgery and that the skull is now a key piece of evidence to show that ancient people were capable of advanced surgery.
The skull in question is an example of a Peruvian elongated skull, which is an ancient form of body modification where members of the tribe intentionally deformed the skulls of young children by binding them with a cloth or even tying the head between two pieces of wood during prolonged periods of time.
“This is a Peruvian elongated skull with metal surgically implanted after returning from battle, estimated to date to about 2000 years ago. One of our oldest and most interesting pieces in the collection,” a museum spokesperson said. “We don’t have much background on this piece, but we do know the man survived the procedure.”
“Based on the broken bone surrounding the repair, you can see that it is strongly fused. It was a successful surgery.”
The skull had originally been held in the museum’s private collection, however, it was officially put on display in 2020 following growing public interest in the artifact due to news coverage of the skull’s discovery.
The area where the skull was found in Peru has long been known to have been inhabited by surgeons who invented a series of complex procedures to treat a fractured skull.
The injury was common at the time due to the use of projectiles—thrown from slingshots, for example—during battle. Elongated skulls were equally common in Peru at the time. Multiple reasons have been given for this practice, ranging from serving as a way for society’s elites to stand out —mimicking the look of “gods”—to a form of defense—Peruvian women who had elongated skulls had less likely to have sustained serious head injuries than those without.
Advanced Surgery In Ancient Times Without Anesthesia
Surgeons during that time period scraped a hole in the skull of a living human without the use of modern anesthesia or sterile techniques.
“They learned early on that this was a treatment that could save lives. We have overwhelming evidence that trepanation was not done to increase consciousness or as a purely ritual activity, but is linked to patients with severe head injuries, especially skull fractures,” said Tulane University anthropologist John Verano.
“We don’t know metal. Traditionally, silver and gold were used for this type of procedure,” noted a spokesperson for the SKELETONS: Museum of Osteology exhibit.
In a 2018 study published in Current Anthropology, the practice of lengthening skulls was found among disparate cultures ranging from the Mayans to the Huns and was found to be a status symbol of privilege and prestige in groups around the world.
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