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Evidence of Amputation Surgery from 31,000 Years ago Found in Indonesia

The oldest evidence of amputation surgery on a child 31,000 years ago has been unearthed in a cave in Indonesia. Examining the bones recovered, it was revealed that the child survived for a few more years after the incident.

The relic found indicates that the hunter-gatherer community in which the boy lived had the medical skills to prevent deaths from blood loss or infection, the common danger of amputation surgery.

The point where the left tibia and fibula cut is quite clear. Photo: Tim Maloney

The archaeologists who conducted the study found the body of a 31,000-year-old teenager bearing evidence of a leg amputation. The skeleton traces the origin of this complex surgery back more than 24,000 years. In addition, archaeologists stated that the society in which he lived cared for this person until his death.

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Conducting the studies, Dr. Melandri Vlok stated that “The scars of surgery on the skeleton are quite obvious.”

According to details published in the journal Nature, the amputation took place when the person was still a child. Growth and development in the leg bones indicate that the person has recovered. In addition, the person lived an additional six to nine years after the surgery.

The tomb was found in a cave called Liang Tebo in East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, which holds some of the world's oldest rock art.

In addition to the absence of the left foot, the leg bones are showing signs of healing. Photo: Tim Maloney

One of the researchers who found and excavated the tomb, Dr. Tim Maloney (Griffith University in Australia) stated, "We were also quite excited and horrified as we uncovered the ancient bones."

University of Sydney's Dr. Vlok said after examining the remains “This kind of discovery was both exciting and very sad because it happened to a person in the past, who was a child.”

Archaeologists consider that the procedure was not a punishment or ritual because the person was taken care of by the community during the recovery period and for the rest of his life.

“For a person to survive in this type of mountain range in Indonesia, the rest of the community has to take care of him,” Maloney said.

Durham University archaeologist Prof. Charlotte Robertson claims that "the finding disproves the view that medicine and surgery came late in human history." He also said, "It shows that philanthropy is an innate part of being human."

Robertson pointed out that to perform a procedure such as amputation requires extensive knowledge of human anatomy and surgical hygiene and important technical skills.

“Considering that in today's technology, anesthesia is given to the person for the amputation procedure, sterile procedures are applied, and many procedures such as pain management and bleeding control are applied, it is very important for the medical world to amputate a person 31,000 years ago.”

Dr. Maloney and his colleagues would like to investigate further on the skeleton to find out what kind of stone surgical instruments were used at that time.