Archaeologists find evidence of first known ear surgery on 5,300-year-old skull

(ORDO NEWS) — People started doing ear surgery more than 5,000 years ago, say Spanish archaeologists.

Spanish researchers claim that a skull they found in one of the Spanish tombs, with seven incision marks found near the left ear canal, indicates that a person with “anatomical knowledge” performed a surgical operation to relieve possible ear pain.

“This evidence points to a mastoidectomy, a surgical procedure possibly performed to relieve the pain this prehistoric man may have experienced as a result of otitis media and mastoiditis,” the Spanish researchers concluded in an article published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports.

The skull, which, according to the study, belonged to an elderly woman, was discovered along with other human remains of more than 100 people in a huge, single-chamber, multi-stage late Neolithic tomb known as the El Pendon dolmen in Reynoso, Burgos, Spain, in 2018.

Manuel Rojo-Guerra from the Department of Prehistory and Archeology of the University of Valladolid, who, together with colleagues Sonia Diaz-Navarro and Cristina Tejedor-Rodriguez, has been excavating since 2016.

Archaeologists find evidence of first known ear surgery on 5 300 year old skull 2

A set of incision marks found on the left temporal bone of the skull. Lateral view of the left side of the skull (a), detail of the left temporal bone with ear surgery (b), and a magnified view of incision marks made on the left ear near the surgical procedure (c).

The skull showed traces of two holes on either side of the skull near the mastoid bones, indicating that surgery was attempted to relieve the growing pressure in the ear canal.

It is not known whether these procedures were performed at the same time or on separate occasions, but specific bone growth around this area indicates that the woman survived both procedures.

“Given the chronology of this dolmen, this find may be the earliest surgical intervention in human history,” the researchers said in the report.

According to Rojo-Guerra, an additional find in the tomb of a flint blade with traces of bone cutting and repeated heating at a temperature of 300-350 degrees suggests that it was used as a surgical tool for cauterization.

Doctors at the University Hospital of the University of Valladolid confirmed that the procedure was very similar to the surgical interventions that are still performed today to eliminate middle ear infections.


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