A man's regeneration of bone implies he survived a hole scraped out of his forehead.
|According to a new study, the first known occurrence of skull surgery in North America occurred between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago in what is now Alabama, possibly approximating the event depicted above. |
SCIENCE SOURCE/JOSE ANTONIO PENAS
The oldest documented case of skull surgery in North America is a man with a hole in his forehead who was buried in what is now northwest Alabama between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago.
According to bioarchaeologist Diana Simpson of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, damage around the man's oval skull opening shows that someone scraped off that portion of bone, most likely to relieve brain swelling induced by a severe attack or a serious fall. Fractures and other injuries above the man's left eye, as well as his left arm, leg, and collarbone, might be explained by either scenario.
According to Simpson, bone regrowth on the edges of the skull incision indicates that the individual lived for up to a year after the operation. She gave a virtual session at the American Association of Biological Anthropologists' annual meeting on March 28 to report her findings on the man's bones.
In North Africa, skull surgery dates back to 13,000 years ago (SN: 8/17/11). Until now, the earliest evidence of this practice in North America was just about 1,000 years old.
The new world record holder was most likely a shaman or ritual practitioner at his peak. Items similar to those discovered in shamans' tombs at nearby North American hunter-gatherer sites dated between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago were found in his grave. Sharpened bone pins and modified deer and turkey bones that could have been tattooing instruments were among the ritual artifacts buried with him (SN: 5/25/21).
In the 1940s, investigators discovered the man's grave, along with 162 others, in the Little Bear Creek Site, a seashell-covered burial mound. In 2018, Simpson investigated the man's skeleton and grave artifacts in a museum before returning them to local Native American groups for reburial.