Nearly one century ago, a Swiss miner was searching for metal ore deposits in the limestone caves of Kabwe, Zambia, when he found an ancient skull that dated back to between 125,000 and 300,000 years. It was the first fossil to be discovered in Africa with Homo sapiens characteristics. But there was an even bigger surprise – the skull had a small, circular shaped hole on the side, which forensic scientists say could only have been created by an extremely high-velocity projectile, such as that caused by a bullet. The mystery was compounded by the discovery of an ancient auroch skull with exactly the same feature. The discoveries have led to many wild and wonderful speculations, but we are really no closer to solving the puzzle.
The skull found in Kabwe (also known as Broken Hill) attracted a great deal of attention when it was first discovered. According to the Smithsonian Institution , it was initially believed that the Kabwe skull was the first ever example of a new species of hominid called Homo rhodesiensis. It was subsequently assigned the classification of Homo heidelbergensis, although more recent research has shown that several characteristics shown similarities to Homo erectus, Neanderthals, and modern Homo sapiens. Whoever the skull belonged to, it appears he/she may have been the product of interbreeding between different hominid species.
But its unique combination of features was not all that was unique about the Kabwe skull. It was also found to have a small, perfectly-round hole on the left side of the cranium, as well as a shattered parietal plate on the opposite side. This suggests the projectile that entered on the left side, passed through the skull with such force that it completely shattered the right side. Strangely, the presence of these highly-unusual characteristics are missing from descriptions of the Kabwe skull on the Smithsonian page, as well the Natural History Museum of London, although their photos clearly depict the hole in the skull.
A replica of the Broken Hill/Kabwe skull from the Museum in Livingstone, Zambia, with the ‘bullet hole’ on he left. Image source .
While it is natural to assume that the hole may have been caused by a high-speed spear or javelin, a recent article in The Shields Gazette explained that investigations proved this was not possible.
“When a skull is struck by a relatively low-velocity projectile – such as an arrow, or spear – it produces what are known as radial cracks or striations; that is, minute hairline fractures running away from the place of impact,” wrote The Shields Gazelle. “As there were no radial fractures on the Neanderthal skull, it was unanimously concluded that the projectile must have had a far, far greater velocity than an arrow or spear.”
According to the book ‘ Technology of the Gods: The Incredible Sciences of the Ancients ’ by David Hatcher Childress, a German forensics expert made an even more radical conclusion – “the cranial damage to Rhodesian man’s skull could not have been caused by anything but a bullet”. Researcher Rene Noorbergen, who investigated the mystery in ‘ Secrets Of The Lost Races ’, concurred, saying that “this same feature is seen in modern victims of head wounds received from shots from a high-powered rifle.”
If this were true, it would mean that a) the skull is not as old as claimed, b) the ancient skull was shot in modern times, c) the ancient skull was shot in ancient times by a technologically advanced civilization. The first and second options are discounted by the fact that the skull was found 60 feet below the surface, which confirms that it is at least several thousand years old, and was not exposed near the ground to have been accidently or intentionally shot in recent decades. Does that just leave us with the third option, or could there be other explanations in the mix?
Before exploring other hypotheses, we must give consideration to another skull discovery which further compounds the mystery. Thousands of miles away, along the Lena River in Russia, another ancient skull was discovered with the same clean, round hole. The skull belonged to an auroch, an extinct species of wile cattle that lived between 2 million and 4,000 years ago. Like the Kabwe skull, the hole in the auroch skull is also missing radial cracks that would result from spear or arrow projectiles.
Auroch skull with bullet-like hole in the forehead. Image source: Technology of the Gods: The Incredible Sciences of the Ancients
The skull, which is now on display in Moscow’s Museum of Palaeontology, could not have been struck by a bullet in more modern times because calcification around the bullet hole shows that the auroch survived the wound for some time afterwards.
All these pieces of the puzzle have really brought us no closer to learning the truth. Numerous hypotheses and speculations have surfaced, from radical theories, such as the idea proposed by The Shields Gazette that “someone from the future, carrying a firearm, travelled back into the past and engaged in some sort of trans-temporal hunting expedition”, to the slightly more plausible suggestion that the holes were caused by shrapnel from a small meteorite or something similar.
In alternative archaeology circles, the most popular perspective is that ancient man may have been technologically developed to a very high degree, before virtually all traces were lost. But could two separate societies, separated by thousands of years and a vast cultural gulf, have both invented weapons that just happened to fire small, cylindrical projectiles at high speed?
The only lukewarm attempt to debunk the alternative theories comes from the Bad Archaeology website, which denies the injuries to the right-side of the skull exist, although this is without explanation or evidence. Instead they claim that the bullet-like hole was caused by “a pathological, rather than a traumatic lesion, caused by an infection in the soft tissue over it”.
At this stage, none of the hypotheses are supported by adequate evidence or logic, and unless more fossils are discovered with the same type of injuries, we may never hold the real answers to this enigma.
Featured image: The Kabwe Skull with bullet-like hole. Image Credit: Jim Di Loreto and Don Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution
Why our ancestors drilled holes in each other's skulls
For a large part of human prehistory, people around the world practised trepanation: a crude surgical procedure that involves forming a hole in the skull of a living person by either drilling, cutting or scraping away layers of bone with a sharp implement.
To date, thousands of skulls bearing signs of trepanation have been unearthed at archaeological sites across the world.
But despite its apparent importance, scientists are still not completely agreed on why our ancestors performed trepanation.
Anthropological accounts of 20th-Century trepanations in Africa and Polynesia suggest that, in these cases at least, trepanation was performed to treat pain &ndash for instance, the pain caused by skull trauma or neurological disease.
Trepanation may also have had a similar purpose in prehistory. Many trepanned skulls show signs of cranial injuries or neurological diseases, often in the same region of the skull where the trepanation hole was made.
But as well as being used to treat medical conditions, researchers have long suspected that ancient humans performed trepanation for a quite different reason: ritual.
The earliest clear evidence of trepanation dates to approximately 7,000 years ago. It was practised in places as diverse as Ancient Greece, North and South America, Africa, Polynesia and the Far East. People probably developed the practice independently in several locations.
Archaeologists have turned up some of the best evidence for ritual trepanation ever discovered
Trepanation had been abandoned by most cultures by the end of the Middle Ages, but the practice was still being carried out in a few isolated parts of Africa and Polynesia until the early 1900s.
Since the very first scientific studies on trepanation were published in the 19th Century, scholars have continued to argue that ancient humans sometimes performed trepanation to allow the passage of spirits into or out of the body, or as part of an initiation rite.
However, convincing evidence is hard to come by. It is almost impossible to completely rule out the possibility that a trepanation was carried out for medical reasons, because some brain conditions leave no trace on the skull.
However, in a small corner of Russia archaeologists have turned up some of the best evidence for ritual trepanation ever discovered.
The story begins in 1997. Archaeologists were excavating a prehistoric burial site close to the city of Rostov-on-Don in the far south of Russia, near the northern reaches of the Black Sea.
The site contained the skeletal remains of 35 humans, distributed among 20 separate graves. Based on the style of the burials, the archaeologists knew that they dated to between approximately 5,000 and 3,000 BC, a period known as the Chalcolithic or "Copper Age".
Less than 1% of all recorded trepanations are located above the obelion point
One of the graves contained the skeletons of five adults &ndash two women and three men &ndash together with an infant aged between one and two years, and a girl in her mid-teens.
Finding multiple skeletons in the same prehistoric grave is not particularly unusual. But what had been done to their skulls was: the two women, two of the men and the teenage girl had all been trepanned.
Each of their skulls contained a single hole, several centimetres wide and roughly ellipsoidal in shape, with signs of scraping around the edges. The skull of the third man contained a depression which also showed evidence of having been carved, but not an actual hole. Only the infant's skull was unblemished.
The job of analysing the contents of the grave fell to Elena Batieva, an anthropologist now at the Southern Federal University in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. She immediately recognised the holes as trepanations, and she soon realised that these trepanations were unusual.
They had all been made in almost exactly the same location: a point on the skull called the "obelion". The obelion is on the top of the skull and towards the rear, roughly where a high ponytail might be gathered.
Opening the skull in this location would have risked major haemorrhage and death
Less than 1% of all recorded trepanations are located above the obelion point. What's more, Batieva knew that such trepanations were even less common in ancient Russia. As far as she was aware at the time, there was just one other recorded case of an obelion trepanation: a skull unearthed in 1974 at an archaeological site remarkably close to the one she was excavating.
Clearly, finding even one obelion trepanation is remarkable. But Batieva was looking at five, all of them buried in the same grave. This was, and is, unprecedented.
There is a good reason why obelion trepanation is uncommon: it is very dangerous.
The obelion point is located directly above the superior sagittal sinus, where blood from the brain collects before flowing into the brain's main outgoing veins. Opening the skull in this location would have risked major haemorrhage and death.
This suggests the Copper Age inhabitants of Russia must have had good reason to perform such trepanation procedures. Yet none of the skulls showed any signs of having suffered any injury or illness, before or after the trepanation had been performed.
Among the 137 skulls, they found nine with conspicuous holes
In other words, it appeared as if all of these people were trepanned while they were completely healthy. Was their trepanation evidence of some sort of ritual?
It was an intriguing possibility. However, Batieva had to give up the trail. She had many more skeletons to analyse from all over southern Russia, and could not afford to get sidetracked by just a few skulls, however enigmatic.
Before she gave up, Batieva decided to search through Russia's unpublished archaeological records, in case any more strange obelion trepanations had been discovered but not reported.
Surprisingly, she got two hits. The skulls of two young women with obelion trepanations had been discovered years earlier: one in 1980 and another in 1992. Each one had been unearthed less than 31 miles (50km) from Rostov-on-Don, and neither showed any signs of having been trepanned for a medical reason.
This gave Batieva a grand total of eight unusual skulls, all clustered in a small region of southern Russia and potentially all of about the same age. A decade later, even more came to light.
In 2011, an international team of archaeologists was analysing 137 human skeletons. They had recently been excavated from three separate Copper Age burial sites around 310 miles (500km) south-east of Rostov-on-Don, in the Stavropol Krai region of Russia, close to the modern-day border with Georgia.
The archaeologists had not set out to discover trepanations. They were there to learn about the general health of the prehistoric inhabitants of the region. But among the 137 skulls, they found nine with conspicuous holes.
Southern Russia may have been a centre for ritual trepanation
Five of them were standard examples of trepanation. The holes had been made in a variety of different locations around the front and side of the skull, and all of the skulls showed signs of having suffered a physical trauma, suggesting that the trepanations had been performed to treat the effects of the injuries.
But none of the other four trepanned skulls showed any signs of damage or disease. What's more, all four had been trepanned exactly above the obelion point.
Quite by chance one of the researchers &ndash Julia Gresky, an anthropologist at the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) &ndash had already read Batieva's paper describing the unusual trepanations from the Rostov-on-Don region.
Now Gresky, Batieva and other archaeologists have teamed up to describe all 12 of the obelion trepanations from Southern Russia. Their study was published in April 2016 in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
The 12 skulls would have been remarkable discoveries wherever they had been found. But the fact that they were all discovered in the same tiny corner of Russia meant that a connection seemed likely. If there was no link, the odds that a batch of such rare trepanations would turn up exclusively in southern Russia would have been exceedingly low.
Gresky, Bateiva and their colleagues argue that, while this idea is difficult to prove, the clustering of these unusual trepanations suggests that southern Russia may have been a centre for ritual trepanation.
The owners of the other skulls seem to have survived their operations
Maria Mednikova of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow is an expert on Russian trepanation. She believes that trepanations in specific, dangerous areas of the cranium may have been performed to achieve "transformations" of some kind. She suggests that, by trepanning in these places, people thought they could acquire unique skills that ordinary members of society did not have.
We can only speculate as to why these 12 apparently healthy people were trepanned in such an unusual and dangerous way. But thanks to the trepanation holes themselves, we can infer a surprising amount about the fate of the people after they received their trepanation.
One of the 12 skulls belonged to a woman under the age of 25, who had been buried at one of the sites near Rostov-on-Don. It showed no signs of healing, suggesting that she died during her trepanation or shortly afterwards.
However, the owners of the other skulls seem to have survived their operations. Their skulls showed bone healing around the edges of the trepanation holes &ndash although the bone never completely re-grew over the holes.
Three of the 12 skulls showed only slight signs of healing around the trepanation hole, suggesting that their owners only survived between two and eight weeks after the operation. Two of these individuals were women between 20 and 35 years of age. The third was an elderly person between 50 and 70 years old, whose sex could not be determined.
The other eight skulls showed more advanced healing. Based on what we know about bone healing today, these individuals probably survived for at least four years after their operations.
It appeared as if all of these people were trepanned while they were completely healthy
These eight survivors included all five of the people from the mass grave near Rostov-on-Don, whose bizarrely-trepanned skulls first attracted Batieva's attention almost 20 years ago.
The two men, two women and one adolescent girl had all survived with their obelion holes for years. The girl, who based on her skeleton was between 14 and 16 years old, must have been trepanned when she was no older than 12, and possibly much younger.
It is still possible that these 12 people were suffering from diseases or head injuries. In that case, the trepanning operation may have worked for at least eight of them.
But it is also possible that Batieva and her colleagues are right, and these people were trepanned for a ritual purpose. If that is true, we can only guess at what benefits they received &ndash or believed they had received &ndash throughout the rest of their lives.
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Prehistoric Hominid Skulls With 'Bullet Holes': Did A Time Traveler Shoot Rhodesian Man In The Head?
An ancient hominid skull, first assigned to the species Homo rhodesiensis ("Rhodesian Man") and later Homo heidelbergensis, found by a Swiss miner Tom Zwiglaar in a limestone cave in Kabwe ("Broken Hill"), Zambia, in 1922, has intrigued out-of-place artifacts (ooparts) conspiracy theorists after it was observed that the skull appears to have a "bullet hole" on the left side of the cranium near the position of the ear.
But the problem with that claim is that scientific researchers have determined that the owner of the skull lived and died between 125,000 to 300,000 years ago, long before firearms were invented.
Speculations that the hole was caused by a very high-velocity projectile, such as a bullet fired from a rifle, received impetus after the skull of a prehistoric auroch or bison (wild cattle) with the same "bullet hole" feature in the forehead was found several thousands of miles away in the Eastern Siberian region of Yakuzia in Russia.
Ooparts conspiracy theorists claim that the Rhodesian Man's skull also features a shattered parietal plate on the right side consistent with the exit of a bullet that entered the skull from the left side. The fact that practically all photos of the skull available to the public show only the left side of the skull has been used to support the argument that mainstream researchers are trying to conceal the smoking gun evidence of injuries to a prehistoric skull caused by a firearm.
Conspiracy theorists also note the pattern of general silence in online mainstream sources -- including the Smithsonian Institute and the Natural History Museum of London -- about the anatomically significant hole on the left side of the skull despite the fact that photos show it clearly.
But ooparts conspiracy theorists elaborate the "bullet hole" conspiracy theory without providing evidence that the right side of the skull is shattered in a manner consistent with the exit of a high-velocity projectile. A shattered right cranium would be clinching evidence that a small high-velocity projectile caused the hole on the left side.
In an article published on the website Bad Archaeology, Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews denies the claim that parietal bone on the opposite side of the skull is shattered. The writer, who presumably has seen the right side of the skull, claims that it is "mostly intact." He admits, however, that part of the lower parietal bone is broken off but "not as a result of shattering."
Fitzpatrick-Matthews also claims that close examination of the edges of the hole reveals signs of healing and concludes that the "wound appears to have been a pathological, rather than a traumatic lesion, caused by an infection in the soft tissue over it."
However, it is believed that the prehistoric hominid individual suffered Rigg's disease and dental caries, the type of pathology that could have caused a neat hole in the head like a "bullet hole" is unspecified.
Conspiracy theorists question the claim that the damage to the right side of the Rhodesian Man's skull was not caused by "shattering." They also deny the infection theory by pointing to the auroch skull with a similar hole in the forehead, challenging researchers to explain what infection caused a "bullet hole" in the thick front part of the skull of a prehistoric bison.
Suggestions that the hole could have been caused by traditional weapons, such as a spear or javelin, have been convincingly ruled out.
A low-velocity projectile, such as a spear or a javelin, impacting on a skull produces radial cracks. These are fine, hairline fractures of the skull originating from the point of impact. Observation that the skull does not have striations around the hole effectively rules out the possibility that the hole was caused by a low-velocity projectile.
In his book Technology of the Gods: The Incredible Sciences of the Ancients, author David Hatcher Childress claims that a German forensics expert concluded after examining the hole that "the cranial damage to Rhodesian man's skull could not have been caused by anything but a bullet."
Rene Noorbergen points out in his book Secrets of The Lost Races that the features observed in the ancient skull are "seen in modern victims of head wounds received from shots from a high-powered rifle."
The suggestion that the skull acquired the "bullet hole" in modern times, long after the individual had died, is ruled out by the fact that the skull was recovered with the hole already in it from 60 feet below the surface. The alternative suggestion that the skull is not as old as scientific researchers think is also refuted not only by the fact that it was found deep below the surface, but also by the fact that it belonged clearly to an extinct species of hominids.
Rejecting the argument by mainstream researchers that the hole was caused by a chronic infection, conspiracy theorists have speculated on the question: Who shot Rhodesian man?
The Shields Gazette argues that the discovery of an ancient bison or auroch skull thousands of miles away in Russia with a similar "bullet hole" in the forehead suggests that hunters armed with rifles roamed the earth thousands of years ago before the onset of historic civilization as we know it.
To explain the absence of direct evidence of such cultures, ooparts conspiracy theorists are forced to argue that natural events, such as asteroid impacts, might have wiped out evidence of technologically advanced prehistoric cultures.
The view popular among oopart conspiracy theorists is that the "bullet holes" provide evidence of human or non-human prehistoric civilizations thousands or even millions of years old that were far more technologically advanced than ever suspected.
Some conspiracy theorists also speculate that time travelers from the future armed with firearms might have conducted hunting expeditions in the past.
The suggestion has led some to suggest tongue-in-cheek that we may discover in the future that the time travel habits of future human hunters contributed to major extinctions in geological history.
The term trepanation describes the removal of sections of bone from the cranium. Although others may have made earlier reference to trepanation, in 1995, Chinese archeologists discovered a skull at the Neolithic site Fujia from approximately 3000 bc (the Dawenkou Cultural Period), Guangrao, Dongying, Shandong, China, and after careful examination of the specimen, the archeologists suggested that the procedure had been performed on a living patient who subsequently survived. Archeological evidence supports that the practice of trepanation was widespread.
Conflict of interest statement: The authors declare that the article content was composed in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
The gory details: Pictures of surgery through the ages
Throughout history, humans have gone to extraordinary lengths to cure ailments and preserve life, even when it involves excruciating operations. Fortunately, we have found increasingly sophisticated ways to reduce the pain and enhance chances of survival – to the point that we can now perform surgery and cure serious illnesses without even breaking the skin. David Robson
Across the world, you will find prehistoric skulls with large holes that seem to have been drilled in the bone &ndash such as this example from the West Bank in the Palestinian Territories. The practice, called trepanation, seems to have been common in many cultures it may have been an attempt to treat disorders such as migraine or epilepsy by releasing the demons thought to cause the problem. Despite the pain and risk of infection, this patient survived long enough for rings of new bone to grow around the drilled holes.
(Image: SSPL via Getty Images)
Egyptian eye surgery
This painting, copied from the tomb of Ipi at Deir el-Medina, Egypt, is one of many records demonstrating the ancient Egyptians' knowledge of medicine. Here, an oculist tends an eye infection. In other medical documents, we can see records of more advanced procedures such as a nose reconstruction following an accident.
(Image: Gianni Dagli Orti/The Art Archive/Alamy)
Sometimes, myths provide the best clues to ancient medical practice. In one Greek tale, the warrior Achilles fought Telephus, son of the demigod Heracles, and injured him. Greeks believed in sympathetic magic &ndash the idea that whatever inflicted a wound could also cure it &ndash so Telephus persuaded Achilles to operate. Magic or not, the procedure could have removed infectious debris, allowing the wound to heal properly.
(Image: DEA/G. Nimatallah/Getty)
The practice of caesarean section had barely changed from Roman times when this woodcut was made. It records the work of Scipione Mercurio, an obstetrician at the end of the 16th century. Mercurio recommended caesarean section for women whose pelvises were too small for them to give birth in the usual way &ndash although it is unlikely the mother could survive such an operation.
(Image: Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
Little could be done for many wartime injuries besides amputation. The distress of the operation can be seen in this painting of the 16th-century physician Ambroise Paré.
(Image: Leemage/Universal Images Group/Getty)
Aside from the age-old use of drugs like alcohol or opium, anaesthetics first came to prominence in the 19th century, removing some of the horror of invasive procedures. This engraving shows US dentist William Morton making the first public demonstration using ether to perform painless surgery at the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1849.
(Image: Wellcome Library, London)
As surgical equipment improved, doctors were able to attempt operations on vital organs that would have once seemed unimaginable. One such landmark came with the first implantation of an artificial heart, performed by Denton Cooley in the 1960s. Here, Cooley is looking through the window into an operating theatre where his colleagues are preparing for another such pioneering operation.
(Image: Popperfoto/Getty Images)
The invention of endoscopes opened a window onto novel forms of surgery by allowing doctors to operate through very small cuts in the skin, rather than making large incisions. Such "keyhole surgery" can be seen here in one of the first stages of female-to-male sex reassignment.
(Image: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)
Laser eye surgery
Lasers allow surgeons to burn away tissue with high precision. This led to the popular Lasik surgery to cure short-sightedness, which uses a laser beam to reshape the cornea.
(Image: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)
Modern surgeons don't have to be in the same room as the patient &ndash or even the same country. Robots such as the da Vinci system can be operated remotely to perform certain surgical procedures. It has been used for hysterectomies and hernia repairs, among other procedures.
(Image: Medical Illustration/Wellcome Images)
Modern brain surgery is a far cry from those early attempts with trepanation. Using focused ultrasound waves, Jeff Elias and his team at the University of Virginia burn away small areas of problematic brain tissue to treat a condition known as essential tremor &ndash without making a single cut through the skin. The technique is also used to treat a number of cancers, and the Focused Ultrasound Foundation has recently set up a centre in London to investigate its many applications.
Stories about the skulls focus heavily on their perceived supernatural powers.
Joshua Shapiro, coauthor of Mysteries of the Crystal Skulls Revealed, cites claims of healings and expanded psychic abilities from people who have been in the presence of such skulls.
"We believe the Crystal Skulls are a form of computer which are able to record energy and vibration that occur around them," he writes. " The skull will pictorially replay all events or images of the people who have come into contact with them (i.e. they contain the history of our world)."
Most archaeologists and scientists are skeptical, to say the least.
Skulls were prominent in ancient Mesoamerican artwork, particularly among the Aztec, so the connection between these artifacts and these civilizations is apt.
"[I]t was a symbol of regeneration," says Michael Smith, a professor of anthropology at Arizona State University. "There were several Aztec gods that were represented by skulls, so they were probably invoking these gods. I don't think they were supposed to have specific powers or anything like that."
- It is believed the double trepanation procedure was survived by the warrior as it showed signs of healing
- May have been inflicted on the man as part of ‘brain surgery’ to alleviate pain or as part of a ritual
- The warrior was from the Ingul catacomb culture and was likely high on cannabis to numb the pain
The skull of a prehistoric warrior who lived 4,000 years ago has been unearthed with two holes in his skull as a result of an operation from ‘ancient brain surgeons’.
Archaeologists believe the man from a Stone Age axe-making culture may have suffered from bad headaches and went on to live for some years after the intrusive trepanation procedure as the wounds showed signs of healing.
Dr Sergey Slepchenko, a researcher at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Novosibirsk, said the ‘most obvious’ anaesthetic was cannabis.
The well-preserved skull was found on a disused Stalinist shooting range in the breakaway Transnistria region of Moldova in eastern Europe.
The skull of a prehistoric warrior who lived 4,000 years ago has been unearthed with two holes in his skull as a result of rudimentary brain surgery (pictured)
Archaeologists believe the man from a Stone Age axe-making culture lived for some years after the intrusive trepanation procedure as the wounds showed signs of healing (pictured)
It is believed such brain surgery was carried out in ancient times in attempts to ease severe headaches or to cure a haematoma following skull injuries.
It might have been used, too, with the aim of curing epilepsy or rid the afflicted of bad spirits.
Skulls like this with two holes rather than one made by prehistoric medics are rare and archaeologists do not rule out that they were cut for ritualistic reasons rather than for surgery.
But the fact the warrior – from the Ingul catacomb culture – survived the procedure possibly indicates surgery is the more likely explanation.
The skull showed signs of healing after the ‘surgery’ which may have been carried out by scraping with a ‘bronze blade’.
An earlier and similar skull with trapanning – but less well preserved – was found three years ago at the same site.
Skulls like this with two holes rather than one made by prehistoric medics are rare and archaeologists do not rule out that they were cut for ritualistic reasons rather than for surgery
The well-preserved skull was found on a disused Stalinist shooting range in the breakaway Transnistria region of Moldova in eastern Europe
WHAT IS TREPANATION?
Trepanation is a procedure which was done throughout human history.
It involves removing a section of the skull and was often done on animals and humans.
The first recorded proof of this was done on a cow in the Stone Age 3,000 years ago.
It was a process that was still being conducted in the 18th century.
The belief was that for many ailments that involved severe pain in the head of a patient, removing a circular piece of the cranium would release the pressure.
Before then, dating back to the Neolithic era, people would drill or scrape a hole into the head of people exhibiting abnormal behaviour.
It is thought that this would release the demons held in the skull of the afflicted.
This gruesome-looking tool kit was used in the 18th century by physicians to perform trepanations – the removal of a piece of skull to relieve the pressure in the head
This ancient human was dismembered after death in what may have been a macabre ritual, say archaeologists led by head of excavations Dr Sergey Razumov, of the Transnistrian State University in the pro-Moscow rebel region.
Burials on the site included clay pots and evidence of making stone axes and maces.
Further research will be undertaken on the intriguing Bronze Age skulls.
Research in Russia indicates ancient doctors conducting brain surgery of this kind used cannabis, magic mushrooms, and even Shamanic practices like ecstatic dancing as anaesthetics to dull the pain.
But ‘the consumption of fungi, together with other Shamanic practices, such as ecstatic dancing or the use of a drum’ is seen as a likely method of ‘altering the conscious state of a patient and so reducing pain to the extent necessary to carry out surgery’.
The skull was found n what is modern-day eastern Moldova near the village of Glinoe and is the second to be found at the site in recent years
Stone axes found in the graves of Ingul catacomb culture. The skull showed signs of healing after the ‘surgery’ which may have been carried out by scraping with a ‘bronze blade’
Clay pot found in the grave with trepaanated man in 2019 which belongs to the prehistoric culture and dates back as far as 4,000 years. archaeologists claim
Dr Sergey Slepchenko (pictured) is a researcher at the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Novosibirsk and said the ‘most obvious’ anaesthetic was cannabis. But ‘the consumption of fungi, together with other Shamanic practices, such as ecstatic dancing or the use of a drum’ is seen as a likely method of ‘altering the conscious state of a patient and so reducing pain to the extent necessary to carry out surgery’
News Briefs 18-08-2014
cults such Dawkins´
I wish there were far more Dawkins around to inspire people. No one knows the truth, I guess he is even aware of that. He says a lot of important stuff however, much of it true. The article linked to is not inspiring or adding anything of importance.
Re: Hole In Skulls
Re: Fossil skulls with high impact holes.
What is the possibility that these impacts could have been caused by small meteorites? Usually, small meteorites burn up in the atmosphere, but there is a possibility that larger ones by the time they got to terra firma had enough mass left to behave as bullets. I remember the story about Siberian mammoth remains showing tiny but high energy impacts in the fossil tusks, so if the conditions are right small, bullet sized meteorites have been known to pepper the planet at ground level, and they would all have the energy to behave as bullets.
I’m assuming that the other side of the skull had no exit wound because that would make me says “they got shot” if they were modern skulls. I think I may know the answer. Fangs. It could be possible these people were attacked by a prehistoric feline or other animal, which would also explain the cow skull they show. I say feline because canines crush and hold when they bite and felines just hold until the victim stops moving. Here is an example of a skull with bite marks that are similar. Warning, the image is somewhat gory:
I imagine a bullet or even a meteor would have a similar effect to each other and the exit of the projectile would cause the other side of the skull to shatter from the impact.
Dawkins used to inspire
Dawkins used to inspire people.
Oh, maybe 30 years ago or so. He used to inspire me.
Now he just inspires people to swarm like hysterical anti-bodies onto the comments spaces of mildly disparaging articles.
Once in a while on TDG I get to read an article that I really really enjoy. Today it was the article on beaches where “strange things wash ashore.” I don’t think there is an inch of my room spared – covered in things I’ve collected from the beach. I have been an avid beachcomber since I could walk, it runs in my family. The beach I go to is actually known for it’s cow bones that wash ashore. Back as late as the 1940s, ships filled to the brim with cow bones cut up from the slaughterhouses in South Jersey (New Jersey, USA) would haul the bones up the cost to be ground up in New York and sometimes shipwreck on rocks causing them to loose the cargo. I have jaws, horns, skulls, and femurs in a box that looks like a horror show. The glass that washes up on the shore is called sea glass, in fact I know the person who took the photo they are using of Glass Beach, Fort Bragg. It really does look like that. Back in the 1800s through the 1970s it was a glass dump and years of weathering caused the glass to replace the sand. You actually can’t go to most of the beach now as it is a protected area, as the animals there have adapted to look like the glass. There are some places you can go to get the glass but I won’t tell where out of respect for the locals. A lot of the stuff I find I use to make into sculptures and art pieces. I am a proud collector of flotsam and jetsam, I have wrote many articles on the things we can find on the beach, and if anyone ever wants to know what it is they found I’d be happy to help them. Peace…
I recently posted a blog entry on controversy over the manner in which the popular crew called Ghost Adventures may have been falsifying EVP’s in recent shows at the behest of the show’s producers who were wanting to sex up investigations that were lackluster.
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1,000 Years Ago, Patients Survived Brain Surgery, But They Had To Live With Huge Holes in Their Heads
Brain surgery is by no means a modern invention. Centuries ago, ancient healers and doctors practiced trepanation, or brain surgery that skipped the pain meds and scalpels (which did not exist yet) and instead relied on hand-operated drills and other tools to scrape away at the skull and tinker with its contents.
"When you get a knock on the head that causes your brain to swell dangerously, or you have some kind of neurological, spiritual or psychosomatic illness, drilling a hole in the head becomes a reasonable thing to do," lead author Danielle Kurin said in a statement.
The latest evidence for this practice emerged in the Peruvian Andes, where Kurin and her colleagues uncovered 1,000-year old skulls with striking signs of trepanation. Altogether, the team unearthed 32 skulls that exhibited evidence of 45 separate procedures (all of the skulls belonged to men - it was forbidden to perform the surgery on women and children, Kurin says). The practice first began to emerge in the region around𧇈-600 AD. Over the years, the researchers could see that the Peruvian doctors had evolved their procedures, sometimes using a drill, other times using a cutting or scraping tool. Doctors also sometimes practiced their technique on the dead, they say, much as medical students do today.
The practice continued for several hundred years because it was sometimes successful. Researchers can tell whether or not a patient survived based on bone patterns. If the hole had a pie crust-like pattern of divots, that means the skull had begun to grow back following the procedure. Bone, however, grows very slowly some patients likely lived out the rest of their days with a large hole in their head, Kurin says.
The practice finally came to an end when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century and decided to make it illegal, she says. It would take another several centuries before the foundations for modern neurosurgery were laid.
Holes in the head
More ancient skulls bearing evidence of trepanation -- a telltale hole surgically cut into the cranium -- have been found in Peru than the combined number found in the rest of the world. Credit: University of Miami
Even with a highly skilled neurosurgeon, the most effective anesthesia, and all the other advances of modern medicine, most of us would cringe at the thought of undergoing cranial surgery today.
After all, who needs a hole in the head? Yet for thousands of years, trepanation—the act of scraping, cutting, or drilling an opening into the cranium—was practiced around the world, primarily to treat head trauma, but possibly to quell headaches, seizures and mental illnesses, or even to expel perceived demons.
But, according to a new study led by the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine's David S. Kushner, M.D., clinical professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, trepanation was so expertly practiced in ancient Peru that the survival rate for the procedure during the Incan Empire was about twice that of the American Civil War—when, more three centuries later, soldiers were trepanned presumably by better trained, educated and equipped surgeons.
"There are still many unknowns about the procedure and the individuals on whom trepanation was performed, but the outcomes during the Civil War were dismal compared to Incan times," said Kushner, a neurologist who has helped scores of patients recover from modern-day traumatic brain injuries and cranial surgeries. "In Incan times, the mortality rate was between 17 and 25 percent, and during the Civil War, it was between 46 and 56 percent. That's a big difference. The question is how did the ancient Peruvian surgeons have outcomes that far surpassed those of surgeons during the American Civil War?"
In their study published in the June issue of World Neurosurgery, "Trepanation Procedures/Outcomes: Comparison of Prehistoric Peru with Other Ancient, Medieval, and American Civil War Cranial Surgery," Kushner and his co-authors—biological anthropologists John W. Verano, a world authority on Peruvian trepanation at Tulane University, and his former graduate student, Anne R. Titelbaum, now of the University of Arizona College of Medicine—can only speculate on the answer.
But hygiene, or more accurately the lack of it during the Civil War, may have contributed to the higher mortality rates in the later time period. According to the study, which relied on Verano's extensive field research on trepanation over a nearly 2,000-year period in Peru and a review of the scientific literature about trepanation around the world, Civil War surgeons often used unsterilized medical tools and their bare fingers to probe open cranial wounds or break up blood clots.
"If there was an opening in the skull they would poke a finger into the wound and feel around, exploring for clots and bone fragments," Kushner said, adding that nearly every Civil War soldier with a gunshot wound subsequently suffered from infection. "We do not know how the ancient Peruvians prevented infection, but it seems that they did a good job of it. Neither do we know what they used as anesthesia, but since there were so many (cranial surgeries) they must have used something—possibly coca leaves. Maybe there was something else, maybe a fermented beverage. There are no written records, so we just don't know."
Whatever their methods, ancient Peruvians had plenty of practice. More than 800 prehistoric skulls with evidence of trepanation—at least one but as many as seven telltale holes—have been found in the coastal regions and the Andean highlands of Peru, the earliest dating back to about 400 B.C. That's more than the combined total number of prehistoric trepanned skulls found in the rest of the world. Which is why Verano devoted an entire book, Holes in the Head—The Art and Archeology of Trepanation in Ancient Peru, to the 800-plus skulls, most of which were collected from burial caves and archaeological digs in the late 1800s and early 1900s and reside in museums and private collections today.
It's also why Kushner, a medical history buff and Tulane alumnus, jumped at the chance to join Titelbaum in co-authoring one of the book's chapters, "Trepanation from the Perspective of Modern Neurosurgery," and continues to research the subject.
Published in 2016, the book analyzes the techniques and survival rates of trepanation in Peru through the demise of the Incan Empire in the early 1500s. The researchers gauged survival by classifying the extent of bone remodeling around the trepanned holes, which indicates healing. If there was no evidence of healing the researchers assumed the patient died during or within days of the surgery. If the margins of the trepanation openings showed extensive remodeling, they considered the operation successful and the patient long-lived.
Those classifications, Kushner, Verano and Titelbaum reported in the World Neurosurgery paper, show how ancient Peruvians significantly refined their trepanation techniques over the centuries. They learned, for example, not to perforate the protective membrane surrounding the brain—a guideline Hippocrates codified in ancient Greece at about the same time, 5th century, B.C., that trepanning is thought to have begun in ancient Peru.
The long-term survival rates from such "shallow surgeries" in Peru during those early years, from about 400 to 200 B.C., proved to be worse than those in the Civil War, when about half the patients died. But, from 1000 to 1400 A.D., survival rates improved dramatically, to as high as 91 percent in some samples, to an average of 75 to 83 percent during the Incan period, the study showed.
"Over time, from the earliest to the latest, they learned which techniques were better, and less likely to perforate the dura," said Kushner, who has written extensively about modern-day neurosurgical outcomes. "They seemed to understand head anatomy and purposefully avoided the areas where there would be more bleeding. They also realized that larger-sized trepanations were less likely to be as successful as smaller ones. Physical evidence definitely shows that these ancient surgeons refined the procedure over time. Their success is truly remarkable."
Almost as remarkable is how, by the end of World War I, cranial surgery evolved into the distinct profession of neurosurgery, which continues to improve our understanding of brain anatomy, physiology and pathology. As Kushner notes, today's neurosurgeons regularly cut into the brain to remove tumors and blood clots, reduce intracranial pressure from massive strokes and trauma, repair vascular and structural anomalies and treat a myriad of other complex problems—with great success.
"Today, neurosurgical mortality rates are very, very low there is always a risk but the likelihood of a good outcome is very high," he said. "And just like in ancient Peru, we continue to advance our neurosurgical techniques, our skills, our tools, and our knowledge."