Archaeologists know that people have been performing craniotomy, a medical procedure in which a hole is drilled into the skull, for thousands of years. They found evidence that ancient civilizations performed surgeries all over the world, from South America to Africa.
Now, thanks to recent excavations in the ancient city of Megiddo, Israel, there is new evidence that certain types of trephination date at least to the late Bronze Age.
Dr. Rachel Kalisher, a candidate at Brown University’s Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, has led an analysis of the excavated remains of two upper-class brothers who lived in Megiddo around the 15th century BC. A specific type of cranial surgery called horn notch refination. In this procedure, the scalp is cut, a sharp beveled instrument is used to carve four intersecting lines into the skull, and a lever is used to punch a square hole.
Kalisher said trephination is the earliest example of this species found in the ancient Near East.
“There is evidence that torrefination has been this ubiquitous and widespread type of surgery for thousands of years,” Kalisher said. There are only about 12 examples of trephination in the region, and we hope that adding more examples to the academic record will improve our understanding of this field of medicine.The cultural dynamics of ancient cities in the region .”
Kalisher’s analysis, written in collaboration with scholars from New York, Austria, and Israel, was published Wednesday, February 22. pro swan.
two brothers, up close
Israel Finkelstein, co-author of the study and director of the Department of Archeology and Oceanography at the University of Haifa, said that 4,000 years ago Megiddo stood on Via Maris and dominated part of it. said it was. Egypt, Syria, Mesopotamia, Anatolia. As a result, by about the 19th century BC, the city had become one of the richest and most cosmopolitan cities in the region, with an impressive skyline of palaces, temples, fortresses and gates.
“It’s hard to overstate the cultural and economic importance of Megiddo during the Late Bronze Age,” Finkelstein said.
According to Kalisher, the two brothers she analyzed came from a family area directly adjacent to the Late Bronze Age palace at Megiddo, suggesting that the pair were elite members of society, perhaps even royalty. suggests that Many other facts confirm this.The brothers were buried with fine Cyprus pottery and other valuable possessions.
“These brothers were obviously living in pretty serious pathological conditions that they would have been unbearable at the time without their wealth and status,” Kalisher said. You may not have to work as much.If you are elite, you can probably have a special diet.If you are elite, you may be able to survive a serious illness longer.You may not have access to care. increase.”
In her analysis, Kalisher found several skeletal abnormalities in both brothers. It suggests that he may have been sick. The bones of both brothers show little evidence of persistent iron deficiency anemia during childhood, which may have affected their development.
One was in his teens or early 20s, and the other was in his 20s to 40s. These developmental abnormalities may explain why the brothers died so young. But Kalisher said it was likely that the two eventually died of an infection. It shows signs of porosity, legions, and previous inflammation.
Kalisher said some skeletal evidence points to leprosy, but it’s difficult to extrapolate cases of leprosy using bones alone. We are working with researchers on DNA analysis of specific lesions in bone. If they find bacterial DNA matching leprosy, these siblings would make her one of the world’s first documented cases of leprosy.
“Leprosy can spread in families, not only because of proximity, but also because susceptibility to the disease is influenced by genetic status,” Kalisher said. “At the same time, leprosy affects the bones in stages, making it difficult to identify because it may not occur in the same order or with the same severity in everyone. .Whether these brothers had leprosy or some other infection.”
It’s also difficult to determine whether an illness, a congenital condition, or something else led one of the siblings to undergo cranial surgery, Kalisher said. But she knows one thing. If the angled notched trephination was meant to keep him alive, it didn’t succeed. He died shortly after surgery, within days, hours, or even minutes.
delve into medical history
Despite all the evidence of torrefination unearthed over the past 200 years, Kalisher said there is still much that archaeologists don’t know. For example, it is not clear why some trephinations are circular (suggesting the use of some sort of analog drill) and some are square or triangular. It is also not clear what the ancients intended to treat, or what they intended to treat.(Today doctors perform a similar procedure called a craniotomy to relieve pressure on the brain.) Kalisher has a follow-up research project investigating torrefination across multiple regions and time periods. practice.
“You have to be in a pretty miserable place to get a hole in your head,” Kalisher said. “It is interesting to see what we can learn from going through the scientific literature for all the examples of ancient piercings and comparing and contrasting the situation of each individual who underwent the operation.”
Kalisher not only adds to her colleagues’ understanding of early torrefination, but her analysis shows that ancient societies did not necessarily live according to the principle of “survival of the fittest” as many might imagine. He said he wanted to show it to the general public.
“In ancient times, people were much more tolerant and caring than people thought,” Kalisher said. “We have literal evidence that people have taken care of each other, even under difficult circumstances, since the time of the Neanderthals. I don’t mean to say it was all cumbaya — gender and class.” There was a split based on… In the past, people were still people.”
In addition to Kalisher and Finkelstein, other authors of the analysis included Melissa Cradic from the University of Albany. Matthew Adams of WF Albright Archaeological Institute in Jerusalem. Mario Martin from the Universities of Haifa and Innsbruck. Excavations associated with this study were funded by the Shmunis Family Foundation.