1,000-year-old surgical kit found in Sican tomb, Peru

(ORDO NEWS) — A set of surgical instruments, indicating that the deceased was a surgeon, was found in a funerary bundle found in a tomb of the Xican culture in Lambaek, Peru.

The tomb belongs to the Middle Sican period (900-1050 AD) at the archaeological site of Huaca Las Ventanas. This is the first such find made in Lambaek or northern Peru.

This surgeon kept various knives, needles and tumis in his grave, and was buried in the lotus flower position, sitting cross-legged.

It was discovered by a team of archaeologists at a ceremonial temple in the north of the country, the researchers report. The discovery took place at the end of 2021 at the Las Ventanas Mausoleum Temple, in the Pomac Forest Historical Reserve, in the Lambayeque region, about 800 km north of Lima.

The tomb contained a golden mask with feather-eyed eyes, a large bronze breastplate, and other items that spoke of the status of the ancient character, who was buried in a lotus flower position, sitting cross-legged.

1000 year old surgical kit found in Sican tomb Peru 2

Of particular interest to archaeologists was the surgical set. It is large, containing a complete set of awls, needles and knives of various sizes and configurations. There are about 50 knives in total, some with a single cutting edge.

Most of them are made of a bronze alloy with a high arsenic content. Some have wooden handles. There is also a tumi, a ceremonial knife with a half-moon blade. Next to the tumi was a metal tablet with a symbol associated with surgical instruments.

Near the tablet were found two frontal bones, an adult and a young one. The marks on the bones indicate that they were deliberately carved using the trepanation technique. This confirmed that the instruments were intended for use in surgery.

“This character was a craniotomy specialist and his surgical instruments were geared towards all things human skull surgery,” said archaeologist Carlos Elera, director of the National Museum of Sikan.

Archaeologists have stressed that these finds bear similarities to those of the Paracas culture, on the southern coast of Peru (700 BC and 200 AD), known for trepanation. However, the instruments are made from different materials. The blades in the Paracas set were made from sharpened volcanic obsidian.

1000 year old surgical kit found in Sican tomb Peru 3

A piece of the bark of an unknown tree found in the tomb may have been used for medicinal purposes as an analgesic or anti-inflammatory infusion, similar to how white willow bark is used to make tea with aspirin.

“We’re comparing modern surgeon’s instruments with these items to see how similar they are,” Elera said.

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