Brain surgery was being carried out in Ireland more than 1,000 years ago, a burial site in the country has revealed.
A multitude of insights about life and death in Gaelic Ireland were gleaned following the discovery of an unknown medieval church and the graves of about 1,300 men, women and children who lived along the banks of the river Erne at Ballyhanna, Co Donegal, several hundred years ago.
The burial ground, which spanned several centuries, was found during the construction of the Ballyshannon/ Bundoran bypass in 2003.
According to a report in The Irish Times, a team of archaeologists and scientists from Sligo Institute of Technology and Queen's University Belfast, who are involved in the Ballyhanna project, outlined their findings to date.
One of the most interesting discoveries was the remains of a young female, who lived about AD 800, whose skull showed evidence of brain surgery.
"We know that she survived the operation as the skull shows signs of bone growth after the hole was cut into it," said Michael MacDonagh, a senior archaeologist with the National Roads Authority.
Also, Dr Jeremy Bird, head of the school of science at Sligo IT, explained that one of the most exciting aspects of the project is an investigation into whether cystic fibrosis was present in the population 1,000 years ago.
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder known to be an inherited disease of the secretory glands, including the glands that make mucus and sweat.
Preliminary studies carried out by Prof Philip Farrell, an international expert on the disease, and the Sligo-based team have found that is possible to get ancient DNA from human teeth discovered at Ballyhanna.
This could provide evidence of cystic fibrosis in those buried at Ballyhanna.
According to MacDonagh, the unexpected discovery of a medieval church and so many ancient remains, dating back to the seventh century, was of major significance.
"It was an incredible discovery because it was completely unexpected. It is possible that because Ballyshannon suffered so disastrously during the Famine, that these burial grounds just fell out of local memory," he said.