Ancient Medical Procedures Still Baffle Scientists – continued
Until recently, a burial discovered in France at Ensisheim was identified as the earliest example of trepanation. An even older one in the Ukraine a short time ago superseded it. The Ensisheim location dates to 5100-4900 BCE. The interred man did not “go under the knife” once, but twice. The skeletal material that was removed from the man’s cranium measure 2.6 by 2.4 inches toward the front of his head. The other surgical site revealed an enormous amount of bone matter missing with a massive 3.7 by 3.6 inches section of skull being removed. Evidence also indicates that the man survived both surgeries because bone healing is evident in each of the locations.
The Mystery Surrounding Trepanation
Like many things that come to us from deep antiquity, the more we dig in, the more questions we are left with. There is a great deal of speculation about why ancient civilizations started to implement this delicate surgical procedure in the first place. Cultures in the modern era, including ingenious ones whose medicine men still perform trepanation, indicate that it is performed to relieve intracranial pressure, headaches, epilepsy and mental disorders. Some claim that it was used for ritualistic purposes, to excise the evil spirits that cause illness or to enhance spiritual experiences.
Historical evidence, based upon the location and demographics of skulls studied around the world suggest that this practice was used to relieve head injuries caused by weapons including clubs and slings. There is a statistically significant difference in the number of adult males have succumb to this procedure than woman and children. These number support the belief that individuals were trepanned due to warfare injuries since only males would have engaged in these acts.
Trepenation & Modern Medicine
The rise of modern medicine in the 19th century saw rapid advances in science including the introduction of anesthesia as well as physicians practicing in an aseptic (germ free) surgical environment. Based upon 18th and 19th century pre-antiseptic surgical standards individuals who received trepanation as a life-giving measure suffered an almost 100% mortality rate. Infections along the surgical site, due to unsanitary conditions, would often lead to sepsis. Additionally, antibiotics and other infection fighting drugs were not yet part of a physician’s arsenal. This left researchers and physicians of the day doubting the efficacy of this ancient procedure.
Where did these early doctors learn the skills required to cut into the human brain? How did they, using a sharpened stone, learn to scrape away just enough bone matter to expose the brain without damaging the underlying blood-vessels, meninges (dura mater) and brain. We do not find any evidence supporting a long history of practice, trial and error. The tides turned when they realized that in indigenous cultures, who still utilize ancient methods, the survival rate was incredibly high. How these ancient healers learned to do it in the first place is still a mystery.
Advanced Knowledge In Neolithic Times
The amazing success of our Neolithic ancestors testifies to their advanced level of knowledge. Even in today’s modern surgical environment, medical doctors shy away from this delicate procedure and only turn to it as a last resort to relieve pressure from a patient’s skull or to drain hemorrhages.
We still marvel at the skills of our ancestors. Their outstanding success rate is a testament to their technical abilities. In their first venture into the realm of medicine, they were able to successfully complete a difficult procedure that modern medicine shies away from. What makes this even more incredible is that all of this was done in a non-sterile environment, without anesthesia and without access to antibiotics. The evidence provided by the hundreds of prehistoric skulls found in France, as well as around the world, demonstrates the extraordinary achievement of these ancient surgeons – their patients lived to talk about it.
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