The first medical amputation that was ever discovered and put on record was done during the Stone Age. The early leg removal surgery was done on a young hunter-gatherer. Apparently, the prehistoric surgeon who cut off the lower leg of a child hunter-gatherer in Borneo was very skilled. So much so, that the archaeologists concluded that this surgery was the earliest medical amputation that humans currently have on record.
It Was Done Some 31,000 Years Ago
According to study co-author Melandri Vlok, the skill of the Stone Age surgeon was admirable because the patient went on to live six to nine years after the leg was removed. This was deducted after radiocarbon dating was done on the individual’s tooth enamel. Vlok stated that it was a big surprise that the ancient forager survived such a serious and life-threatening operation and the wound healed to form a stump. She pointed out that they had to live in mountainous terrain with altered mobility, which suggested a high degree of community care.
The Remains Were Found in 2020 in Borneo
The skeletal remains of the Stone Age amputee were found by an international team of archaeologists who made their discovery in the limestone cave Liang Tebo. It’s located in the Indonesian portion of Borneo and is a remote cave that is only accessible by boat and during certain times of the year.
According to researchers, the lower leg of the skeleton was removed through deliberate surgical amputation. It had tell-tale growths related to healing and suggested the limb was surgically amputated and was not the result of a tragic accident or animal attack. Still, archaeologists haven’t yet determined the nature of the situation that led to the amputation of the child’s leg.
The Earliest Surgical Amputation Prior to This Was 7000 Years Ago
Prior to this latest find, the earliest evidence of a surgical amputation on a human was found on a 7,000-year-old skeleton that belonged to an elderly Stone Age farmer. In that case, it was the left forearm that was removed. Until the new discovery, scientists believed humans lacked the tools and knowledge to perform surgeries as complex as amputations successfully. Such an operation would have to involve navigating through a network of muscles, nerves, and blood vessels and that would make it very risky. However, the new finding shows that humans have had detailed knowledge of muscular and vascular systems and limb anatomy to expose and negotiate the vessels, veins, and nerves and get around the problem of infection and fatal blood loss.
Researchers cautioned that it was too soon to tell if the surgical amputation in Borneo was an isolated example or something common throughout Stone Age people. Still, the discovery shows that scientists still have much to uncover and understand about the lives of humans during that time.