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Skeleton of earliest known amputee discovered in Borneo

By T.K. Randall
September 8, 2022 · Comment icon 16 comments

The cave turned out to be an archaeological treasure trove. Image Credit: Nature / Tim Maloney
The 31,000-year-old skeleton is believed to be the earliest known evidence of surgical intervention.
The discovery was made quite unexpectedly by Australian and Indonesian archaeologists who had been searching for ancient cave art in a limestone cave in East Kalimantan, Borneo back in 2020.

The skeletal remains turned out to be something even more intriguing - an individual who had seemingly undergone the amputation of their lower left leg and had lived to tell the tale.

Dating back 31,000 years, the find is not only the earliest known evidence of amputation, but also the earliest known evidence of any sort of surgical procedure.

An analysis of the skeleton revealed that the procedure must have been successful because the individual in question had gone on to live for several years after their leg was amputated.
The find is particularly significant because it had previously been widely accepted that until around 10,000 years ago, humans lacked the ability to perform an effective amputation without resulting in the death of the patient.

The previous earliest known example was that of a farmer whose arm was amputated in France some 7,000 years ago.

"This finding very much changes the known history of medical intervention and knowledge of humanity," said Dr Tim Maloney of Australia's Griffith University.

"It implies that early people... had mastered complex surgical procedures allowing this person to survive after the removal of a foot and leg."

Source: The Guardian | Comments (16)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #7 Posted by docyabut2 7 months ago
The term is fromAncient Greek????ph?k?, "seal (animal)" +-o-interfix+ ?????melos, "limb" +Englishsuffix-ia). Phocomelia is an extremely rarecongenital disorderinvolving malformation of the limbs (dysmelia).tienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilairecoined the term in 1836.[1] fromgeneticinheritance.
Comment icon #8 Posted by jmccr8 7 months ago
We dont know what the original injury was to start with , that said humans have been carving up meat for a long time even with bone tools so it is not surprising that someone took a chance on what they knew and it worked. Maybe when a child it was mauled or broken in a fall and had gang green set in. Humans observe things and learn from them and isolated incidents of constructive thinking in earlier archaic humans is worth study. We have no idea what humans in their times knew but there is sufficient evidence of archaic humans caring for others that are disabled
Comment icon #9 Posted by jethrofloyd 6 months ago
Maybe a shark bit off his leg?
Comment icon #10 Posted by Abramelin 6 months ago
Why not?
Comment icon #11 Posted by Tatetopa 6 months ago
I believe the article describes cut marks and several years worth of healing as a teen.
Comment icon #12 Posted by Abramelin 6 months ago
I understand the cut marks and the years of healing. I also understand that the 'surgery' most probably wasn't a nice event. So yes, it wasn't a birth defect. But no doubt some people were born that way back then, like they still are.
Comment icon #13 Posted by Tatetopa 6 months ago
One would assume so. It would be rare good fortune indeed for us to find such a skeleton buried with some love or reverence. It seems as likely to me that these early people did the same thing as our early Greek ancestors, expose infants that could not survive . I don't mean to imply the Greeks were the only ones doing that, just an example.
Comment icon #14 Posted by Abramelin 6 months ago
I'm glad to say those Greeks weren't MY ancestors.
Comment icon #15 Posted by Tatetopa 6 months ago
Who knows. Our ancestors were not writing anything down at that point.
Comment icon #16 Posted by Tatetopa 6 months ago
Speaking of Greeks, maybe Herodotus was right about those one-eyed one -legged humans hopping around in terra incognita. (Opps, mixed metaphor, I don't know Greek for unknown lands.)

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