Scientists to recreate 2,300 year old brain surgery after finding evidence of successful operations
Evidence of 2,300-year-old surgical on two ancient skulls has been identified by scientists.
The skulls, unearthed in the Siberian Altai Mountains, belonged to the nomadic tribe of the Pazyryk and showed strong signs of recovery after brain surgery.
Scientists are now planning to recreate the same high-risk method using similar instruments and techniques – albeit on skulls of the dead.
The skulls showed clear evidence of recovery after undergoing the process called ‘trepanation’, according to a report in the Siberian Times.
Trepanation was a risky ancient medical procedure which involved drilling a hole, or surgically scraping into a human skull.
It was used, among other things, to relieve brain swelling, and historians believe it may also have been mistakenly used to treat problems with the nervous system.
One of the skulls, which belonged to a man aged 40 to 45, showed signs of suffering a trauma to the head.
Scientists believe he developed a subdural haematoma, a condition where blood forms between the skull and the surface of the brain.
The haematoma would have led to him suffering headaches, vomiting and movement problems in his right leg and hand.
Trepanation would have removed the haematoma and evidence of later bone growth suggests the man lived for years after the surgery.
The second male had a hereditary deformation, which was successfully improved with by drilling a hole into the skull.
‘In the middle 19th century, the survival of patients after trepanation in the best hospitals in Europe rarely exceed 10 per cent,’ Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences told Siberian Times.
‘[Trepanation] was associated with an extremely high risk of infectious complications, and this operation was committed only when patients had very severe traumatic brain injury.’
‘Even today, with advanced neurosurgical techniques, successful implementation of trepanation requires serious knowledge and training, and the procedure itself is not considered as absolutely harmless.’
Archaeologists believe the Pazyryk tribe may have had knowledge of the Hippocratic Corpus, a set of ancient Greek medical texts associated with the physician Hippocrates.
They claim the results of the ancient operations on these two skulls to be ‘astonishing’ given the risks associated with such surgery.
Scientists have now created computer models of the two skulls, along with a third skull found of a woman in which the procedure was unsuccessful.
The 30-year-old woman’s skull indicated injury consistent with a fall, and further analysis suggests she died during the surgery or soon afterwards.
By recreating the procedure, scientists at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography hope to understand more which tools were used, and why the procedure was carried out.
‘It may have been related to the rituals through which man reached altered states of consciousness required for religious and magical activities,’ they say.