Oldest skull surgery in North America dates back at least 3,000 years

(ORDO NEWS) — The fusion of the bones indicates that the man survived after a hole in his forehead was scraped out.

A man with a hole in his forehead, who was buried in what is now northwestern Alabama between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago, is the oldest known case of skull surgery in North America.

Lesions around the man’s foramen ovale indicate someone scraped the bone, likely to reduce brain swelling caused by a violent attack or a severe fall, says bioarchaeologist Diane Simpson of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

Any of these scenarios could explain fractures and other injuries above the man’s left eye, as well as his left arm, leg, and collarbone.

According to Simpson, the growth of bones along the edges of the hole in the skull indicates that after the operation the man lived up to one year. She presented her analysis of the man’s remains on March 28 at the virtual session of the annual meeting of the American Association of Biological Anthropologists.

So far, the oldest evidence of this practice in North America dates back no more than 1,000 years ago.

In his prime, the new record holder was probably a shaman. Items found in his tomb were similar to those found in shaman graves at nearby North American hunter-gatherer sites dating from 3,000 to 5,000 years ago.

Among the ritual objects buried with him were sharpened bone pins and modified deer and turkey bones, which may have been tattooing tools.

Investigators unearthed the grave of this man and 162 others at the site of Little Bear Creek, a shell-covered mound, in the 1940s. Simpson examined the museum’s skeleton and grave goods of a man in 2018, shortly before the finds were returned to local Native American communities for reburial.

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