The 31,000-year-old skeleton of a young adult found in a cave in Indonesia missing his left foot and part of his left leg reveals the oldest known evidence of an amputation, a new study has found.
Scientists say the amputation was performed when the person was a child – and the ‘patient’ continued to live for years as an amputee. Prehistoric surgery could show humans were making medical advances much earlier than previously thought, according to study published in the journal Nature Wednesday.
Researchers were exploring a cave in East Kalimantan Borneo in 2020, in a region of rainforest known for having some of the world’s earliest rock art, when they came across the tomb, Dr Tim Maloney said. archaeologist at Griffith University in Queensland and the principal investigator of the study.
Although much of the skeleton was intact, he was missing his left foot and the lower part of his left leg, he said. After examining the remains, the researchers concluded that the foot bones were not missing from the grave, or lost in an accident – they had been carefully removed.
The remaining leg bone showed a clean, angled cut that healed, Maloney said. There were no signs of infection, as one would expect if the child’s leg had been bitten by a creature like a crocodile. And there was also no sign of a crush fracture, which one would have expected if the leg had broken in an accident.
The person appears to have lived around six to nine years after losing the limb, eventually dying of unknown causes as a young adult, the researchers said.
This shows that Stone Age foragers knew enough about medicine to perform the operation without fatal blood loss or infection, the authors concluded.
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