Researchers discovered evidence of advanced surgery carried out nearly 7,000 years ago. While researching a Neolithic tomb at Buthiers-Boulancourt, roughly 40 miles south of Paris, scientists discovered a skeleton of an elderly man with an amputated left arm. Examination of the bones revealed the amputation was intentional and successful, it was likely carried out with a sharpened flint. The early Neolithic surgeons must have had some medical knowledge, pain killing plants were likely used to keep the patient calm, and the wound must have been treated afterwards in sterile conditions as there were no signs of infection. The man survived the operation and lived for months, perhaps years, afterwards.
Tests showed that the humerus bone had been cut above the trochlea indent at the end ‘in an intentional and successful amputation’.
Mrs 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.
Mrs 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,’ said the scientists in an article for the journal Antiquity.