Surgical amputation of a limb 31,000 years ago in Borneo

Tim Ryan Maloney, India Ella Dilkes-Hall, Melandri Vlok, Adhi Agus Oktaviana, Pindi Setiawan, Andika Priyatno, Marlon Ririmasse, I. Made Geria, Muslimin Effendy, Budi Istiawan, Falentinus Triwijaya Atmoko, Shinatria Adhityatama, Ian Moffat, Renaud Joannes-Boyau, Adam Brumm, Maxime Aubert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Web of Science)

Abstract

The prevailing view regarding the evolution of medicine is that the emergence of settled agricultural societies around 10,000 years ago (the Neolithic Revolution) gave rise to a host of health problems that had previously been unknown among non-sedentary foraging populations, stimulating the first major innovations in prehistoric medical practices1,2. Such changes included the development of more advanced surgical procedures, with the oldest known indication of an ‘operation’ formerly thought to have consisted of the skeletal remains of a European Neolithic farmer (found in Buthiers-Boulancourt, France) whose left forearm had been surgically removed and then partially healed3. Dating to around 7,000 years ago, this accepted case of amputation would have required comprehensive knowledge of human anatomy and considerable technical skill, and has thus been viewed as the earliest evidence of a complex medical act3. Here, however, we report the discovery of skeletal remains of a young individual from Borneo who had the distal third of their left lower leg surgically amputated, probably as a child, at least 31,000 years ago. The individual survived the procedure and lived for another 6–9 years, before their remains were intentionally buried in Liang Tebo cave, which is located in East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, in a limestone karst area that contains some of the world’s earliest dated rock art4. This unexpectedly early evidence of a successful limb amputation suggests that at least some modern human foraging groups in tropical Asia had developed sophisticated medical knowledge and skills long before the Neolithic farming transition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)547-551
Number of pages5
JournalNature
Volume609
Issue number7927
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2022

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