A metal plate implanted 2,000 years ago in the head of a Peruvian warrior is believed to be the world’s first skull surgery. Moreover, the patient survived after this surgical intervention.
The Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma reports that the skull in its collection belonged to a man who was wounded in battle. A 2,000-year-old skull of a Peruvian warrior was found to have had a metal insert embedded in it, considered one of the world’s oldest examples of advanced surgery.
According to the Daily Mail, the skull, in the collection of the Oklahoma Museum of Osteology, belonged to a man who was wounded in battle before undergoing one of the earliest surgeries to have a piece of metal implanted into his head.
Experts told the Daily Star that the ancient warrior survived the operation, and the skull now serves as key evidence that humans were capable of performing complex surgeries several thousand years ago.
The skull in question is an example of a Peruvian elongated skull, which is an ancient form of body modification where members of a South American tribe deliberately deformed the skulls of young children by tying them with cloth or even tying the head between two pieces of wood for long periods of time.
“This is a Peruvian elongated skull with metal surgically implanted after returning from combat, estimated to be about 2,000 years old. One of the most interesting and oldest exhibits in our collection, the museum reported. We have little information about this piece, but we do know that it survived the procedure. Judging by the broken bone around the repair site, you can see that it has healed tightly. It was a successful operation.”
The skull was originally held in the museum’s storeroom collection, however it was officially put on display in 2020 following growing public interest in the artifact due to news coverage of the skull’s discovery.
The area in Peru where the skull was discovered has long been famous for its surgeons, who invented a series of elaborate procedures to treat skull fractures.
At the time, injuries were common due to the use of projectiles such as slingshots during combat. Elongated skulls were common in Peru at the time and were stretched by applying force to a person’s skull, often tying it between two pieces of wood.
A variety of reasons have been given for skull lengthening, ranging from societal elites to distinguish themselves to acting as a form of protection.
Subsequent archaeological excavations have shown that Peruvian women with elongated skulls were less likely to suffer serious head injuries than women without such a skull structure.
Surgeons of the time made a hole in the skull of a living person without the use of modern anesthesia or sterile techniques.
“They learned early on that this treatment could save lives. We have incontrovertible evidence that trepanation was not performed to increase consciousness or as a purely ritual act, but was associated with patients with severe head trauma, especially skull fracture, ”physical anthropologist John Verano of Tulane University told National Geographic in 2016.
“We don’t know metal. Traditionally, silver and gold have been used for this type of procedure,” a spokesman for a skeleton exhibit at the Oklahoma Museum of Osteology told the Daily Star.
In a 2018 study published in the journal Current Anthropology, the practice of skull lengthening was found among disparate cultures, from the Maya to the Huns, and was recognized as a status symbol of privilege and prestige in groups around the world.