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Borneo Skeleton, 31,000 Years Old, Thought to be Oldest Example of Amputation

September 8, 2022, 04.11 PM - A 31,000-year-old skeleton found in a remote area in Indonesia is rewriting what we know about early medicine medical procedures according to a new study published in the weekly scientific Nature journal on Wednesday.

Scientists say that the skeleton of a young adult discovered in a cave in Borneo is the oldest known example of successful limb amputation.

"It rewrites our understanding of the development of this medical knowledge," said Tim Maloney — a research fellow at Australia's Griffith University — who led the work.

Discovery comfortably predates the previous example

The oldest previous known example of a limb amputation had been a roughly 7,000-year-old skeleton from France, whose left forearm had been surgically removed and then had partially healed. This led researchers to believe that operations of this nature took place in established agricultural societies.

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The latest discovery turns that notion on its head and suggests that Stone Age hunter-gathers had a far more sophisticated understanding of anatomy and wound treatment than previously thought.

The skeleton was initially uncovered in 2020 in the Liang Tebo cave which is known for its ancient examples of rock art, going back 40,000 years.

When the skeleton was discovered it was found to be missing the lower part of the left leg, along with the left foot. Upon further examination it was found that the bones were not just missing, they had been removed. The remaining part of the left leg showed a clean cut that showed regrowth and had no evidence of trauma like crushing or splintering.

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"It's very neat and oblique, you can actually see the surface and shape of the incision through the bone," Maloney told a press briefing.

The patient lived for years after amputation

Scientists believe the amputation was performed while the person was still a child when the limb was amputated and went on to live for another six to nine years as an amputee.

While humans have been operating on one another for hundreds of years, the complexity of an amputation meant that in Western medicine patients only began to have reasonable odds of survival around a hundred years ago.

Scientists have not been able to identify the type of implement used to operate, but have speculated that a sharpened stone was used followed by treatment with medicinal plants to help stave off infection.

Sources: DW, AFP, AP

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