Bronze Age Brain Surgery Evidence Discovered in Turkey

by Rathi Manohar on Sep 2 2010 7:25 PM

 Bronze Age Brain Surgery Evidence Discovered in Turkey
Brain surgeries were performed in the Bronze age as evidence in the form of scalpels and skulls were discovered in Ikiztepe, an early Bronze Age settlement in Turkey.
Onder Bilgi director of excavations at Ikiztepe, has discovered a razor-sharp 4000-year-old scalpel at Ikiztepe in the Black Sea province of Samsun in Turkey.

"We have just found two cutting blades made of obsidian, a volcanic glass that forms a sharp edge when it fractures. The obsidian must have been imported from another region as there is no natural source of it in the area. We found the blades next to a circular clay platform that may have been used for religious ceremonies. The blades are double-sided, about 4 centimetres long, and very, very sharp. They would still cut you today," New Scientist quoted Bilgi as saying.

When asked what made him think they were used for surgery, Bilgi said: "We have found traces of cuts on skulls in a nearby graveyard. Out of around 700 skulls, 14 have these marks. They could only have been cut with a very sharp tool. At this time, 4000 years ago or more, it could only have been an obsidian blade. The cut marks show that a blade was used to make a rectangular opening all the way through the skull. We know that patients lived at least two to three years after the surgery, because the skull has tried to close the wound."

On why this surgery was performed, he added: "There seem to be three main reasons. The first is to relieve the pressure of a brain haemorrhage; we found traces of blood on the inside of some of the skulls. The second is to treat patients with brain cancer, as we can see pressure traces from the cancer inside some of the skulls. And the final reason was to treat head injuries, which seem to have been quite common. The people of Ikiztepe got their copper from mines in the local mountains, and we think they had to fight other local people for access to it."

He also pointed out other examples of such early skull surgery.

"A few skulls with cut marks have been found at other Bronze Age sites in this region, but other than these I have not found any parallel. There is a Neolithic skull found at a site in central Anatolia with a hole drilled into it. But the surgeons at Ikiztepe were cutting a rectangular opening. It is a much more sophisticated technique," said Bilgi.