Skull surgery was performed on this Stone Age cow, study says

Humans have been performing cranial surgery and drilling holes in other people's skulls for a long time. The oldest e...

Posted: Apr 19, 2018 7:38 PM
Updated: Apr 19, 2018 7:38 PM

Humans have been performing cranial surgery and drilling holes in other people's skulls for a long time. The oldest example of this procedure, called trepanation, dates to 7,300 B.C., according to findings from a site at the village of Vasilyevka in Azerbaijan. That means cranial surgery was happening as long ago as the Mesolithic period.

Now, for the first time, a definite example of cranial surgery has been found in an animal: specifically, a nearly complete cow's skull discovered at a Neolithic site that dates to 3,400 to 3,000 BC. The investigation of this skull is detailed in a study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports.

For the first time, a surgical hole has been found in a Stone Age animal skull

This was either made to help the animal, or an experiment before attempting surgery on a human

Trepanation has been found in skulls from all over the world and usually involved drilling, cutting or scraping layers of bone to form a hole. These techniques were used to avoid being forceful and cause further damage or fracturing to the skull. As early as the Neolithic period, symptoms such as seizures, epilepsy, headaches and alterations in behavior were associated with the brain, which is why the holes are usually found in similar locations.

The cow's skull was found at the Stone Age site of Champ-Durand in France, just under 25 miles from the Atlantic coast. The settlement was once an important trade center, specializing in salt production as well as cattle. Archaeological excavations were carried out there from 1975 to 1985, and bones of cows, pigs, sheep and goats have been found.

Cows have been a popular find in other Neolithic sites, and their bones make up about 54% of the uncovered animal remains.

But complete craniums are a rare find; these animals were raised as food, and their skulls were usually broken to retrieve the tongue and brain, the study said. A wild boar skull previously found in Roquefort, France, possibly from the Neolithic period, showed signs of what could be considered surgery. But the only study of the skull was published in 1948, and the skull was never dated.

After the cow's skull was uncovered at Champ-Durand, a 1999 study suggested that the hole in the cranium was the result of the cow being gored by another cow. The lead director of the archaeological excavation asked Fernando Ramirez Rozzi, a paleontologist with the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, to study the skull.

Rozzi and his biological anthropologist colleague Alain Froment at the Musee de l'Homme in Paris studied the hole in the skull. They determined that there were no fractures or other evidence of an injury or blow, like goring. There is also no sign of healing around the bone tissue, which means the cow either didn't survive the trepanation process or died shortly after. The other possibility is that it was dead when the hole was formed.

But the researchers, familiar with the scraping and cut marks associated with trepanation, determined that the bone had been scraped intensively -- with the intent to form a hole in the cranium. In other words, this was not accidental.

"The main surprise was to see so evident the scratching on the cow skull reveal trepanation, the scraping marks are exactly similar in the human and cow skull" when compared to human trepanation examples, Rozzi wrote in an email.

The biggest lingering question for the researchers is why the hole was made in the first place. If this was a surgical intervention to help and save the life of the cow, it could be considered the oldest evidence of a veterinarian act. But given that cows were such a popular source of food and that the people lived off the livestock they raised, it's difficult for the researchers to see the reasoning behind surgical intervention.

"What would be the interest to heal a cow which represent the most abundant animal among the archaeological remains?" Rozzi asked.

Another likely scenario is that humans practiced surgical experimentation on animals before trying it on each other. Examples of trepanation in humans have surprised researchers by how perfect and precisely they were carried out, especially in instances in which the patients survived. That kind of skill and technique could be achieved only through practice. And even though we may never know the real reasons and intent behind trepanation found in the archaeological record, it shows us what our ancestors were capable of doing.

"These two possibilities reveal new insights for the Neolithic society," Rozzi said.

Terre Haute
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 82°
Robinson
Clear
78° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 80°
Indianapolis
Broken Clouds
79° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 80°
Rockville
Scattered Clouds
75° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 75°
Casey
Clear
80° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 81°
Brazil
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 82°
Marshall
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 82°
Sunny and warm!
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

Latest Video

Image

Food vendors at Summer Fest take extra precautions to keep you safe

Image

Execution day, protesting information

Image

Execution day, a live look hours before the execution

Image

Monday: Mostly sunny with average temperatures. High: 86°

Image

Federal Executions Resuming

Image

TH Women's City Golf Championship

Image

Sunday Morning Forecast Update

Image

Saturday Morning Forecast Update

Image

Ryan Lieberman

Image

Zoe Stewart

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 155048

Reported Deaths: 7388
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook955574725
Lake10378428
DuPage9719486
Kane8107281
Will7278326
Winnebago3169106
St. Clair2304144
McHenry2266102
Kankakee143166
Madison119870
Rock Island119430
Unassigned1185201
Kendall106323
Champaign104017
Peoria66630
DeKalb64220
Boone63721
Sangamon53133
Jackson35619
McLean32215
Randolph3157
Ogle3144
Stephenson2856
LaSalle25917
Macon25322
Clinton24616
Union21219
Whiteside21215
Grundy1945
Coles19117
Iroquois1755
Tazewell1758
Knox1700
Adams1691
Williamson1614
Monroe15913
Warren1490
Cass1409
Morgan1344
Henry1161
Jefferson11417
McDonough10815
Lee1072
Vermilion892
Pulaski840
Marion770
Montgomery741
Macoupin693
Douglas610
Perry611
Jo Daviess551
Livingston552
Christian514
Woodford482
Jasper477
Franklin460
Jersey431
Ford421
Clark410
Bureau372
Menard320
Effingham311
Cumberland290
Mercer290
Johnson260
Alexander250
Washington250
Fayette243
Mason240
Moultrie240
Wabash230
Bond222
Carroll212
Hancock211
Logan210
Piatt210
Crawford200
Shelby201
Edgar190
Wayne191
De Witt180
Saline170
Fulton160
Massac160
Schuyler130
Lawrence120
Marshall120
Brown100
White100
Greene90
Richland90
Henderson80
Hamilton70
Pike70
Gallatin60
Stark60
Clay50
Edwards50
Calhoun10
Hardin10
Pope10
Putnam10
Scott10
Out of IL00

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 51612

Reported Deaths: 2760
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion12074693
Lake5650249
Elkhart361860
Allen2952134
St. Joseph214869
Hamilton1708101
Cass16459
Hendricks1466100
Johnson1345118
Porter84038
Tippecanoe7799
Vanderburgh7686
Clark71144
Madison67864
LaPorte62328
Howard60758
Bartholomew60145
Kosciusko5824
Marshall5579
Noble52028
Boone49144
LaGrange48610
Jackson4783
Delaware47552
Hancock46836
Shelby45925
Floyd41444
Monroe34828
Morgan34531
Grant32226
Dubois3096
Montgomery29820
Henry29618
Clinton2903
White27610
Dearborn26523
Warrick26129
Vigo2588
Decatur25632
Lawrence25225
Harrison21822
Greene19632
Miami1942
Jennings17912
Putnam1738
DeKalb1694
Scott1659
Wayne1586
Daviess15117
Perry14910
Steuben1382
Orange13723
Jasper1362
Ripley1347
Franklin1288
Gibson1242
Wabash1163
Carroll1142
Starke1083
Whitley1076
Fayette1067
Newton10110
Huntington942
Jefferson872
Wells821
Randolph804
Fulton731
Jay720
Knox710
Washington681
Pulaski661
Clay645
Rush623
Posey610
Spencer571
Owen521
Benton510
Sullivan501
Adams491
Brown431
Blackford402
Fountain362
Crawford330
Switzerland320
Tipton321
Parke270
Martin260
Ohio230
Vermillion200
Warren151
Union140
Pike120
Unassigned0193