A team of scientists has unearthed evidence of a 6,900 year old amputation surgery during work on an Early Neolithic tomb discovered in France, which could force a reassessment of the history of surgery.
According to a report in The Times, scientists found evidence of the surgery on the tomb discovered at Buthiers-Boulancourt, about 65 km south of Paris in France.
They found that a remarkable degree of medical knowledge had been used to remove the left forearm of an elderly man about 6,900 years ago - suggesting that the true Flintstones were more developed than previously thought.
The patient was important, as his grave was 6.5 ft long - bigger than most - and contained a schist axe, a flint pick and the remains of a young animal, which are evidence of high status.
The most intriguing aspect, however, was the absence of forearm and hand bones.
A battery of biological, radiological and other tests showed that the humerus bone had been cut above the trochlea indent at the end "in an intentional and successful amputation".
The patient seems to have been anaesthetized, the conditions were aseptic, the cut was clean and the wound was treated, according to the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP).
Archaeologist Cecile Buquet-Marcon said that the patient, who is likely to have been a warrior, might have damaged his arm in a fall, animal attack or battle.
"I don't think you could say that those who carried out the operation were doctors in the modern sense that they did only that, but they obviously had medical knowledge," she said.
A flintstone almost certainly served as a scalpel.
Buquet-Marcon said that pain-killing plants were likely to have been used, perhaps the hallucinogenic Datura.
"We don't know for sure, but they would have had to find some way of keeping him still during the operation," she said.
Other plants, possibly sage, were probably used to clean the wound.
"The macroscopic examination has not revealed any infection in contact with this amputation, suggesting that it was conducted in relatively aseptic conditions," according to the scientists.
The patient survived the operation and, although he suffered from osteoarthritis, he lived for months, perhaps years, afterwards, tests revealed.
Despite the loss of his forearm, the contents of his grave showed that he remained part of the community.
"The discovery demonstrates that advanced medical knowledge and complex social rules were present in Europe in about 4900BC, and that major surgery was likely to have been more common than we realized," Buquet-Marcon said.