Hole In Stone Age Cow's Skull Bears Evidence Of Early Cranial Surgery


New research finds that a hole in the skull of a cow was likely made by humans for medical purposes over 5,000 years ago. Could this be the earliest sign of veterinary surgery, or was the procedure merely done as a practice for humans?

Hole In The Skull

In a recently published study, a pair of anthropologists discuss the possible implications of a discovery in a cow skull that was recovered from an archaeological site in western France. The site, believed to have been inhabited by a Stone Age community thousands of years ago, had scattered bone fragments, revealing that cows, sheep, pig, and goats were the likely main food source for its inhabitants. However, one of the recovered skulls was also found to have a hole the size of a matchbox.

Upon closer inspection using high-definition scanners, researchers found that the hole is not likely linked to a disease, pest attack, or any other sickness, and nor did it present evidence that it was a result of a strong blow to the head. Further, the possibility of the hole being made as a part of a religious ritual was also thrown out as the skull was just thrown along with other garbage.

Evidently, the hole, which was initially believed to be a result of a fight with a rival, matches the holes that were previously seen in human skulls that were bored as a result of cranial surgery or trepanation. It had surrounding cuts and scrape marks similar to those seen in human skulls, suggesting that this was an indisputable case of early cranial surgery.

"There are many Neolithic (human) skulls in Europe which bear the marks of trepanation. But we have never seen it in animals," said Fernando Ramirez Rozzi, coauthor of the study.

Early Veterinary Or Practice For Human Surgery?

So why did the humans perform such a surgery on a cow? According to the researchers, it's possible that the surgery is evidence of early veterinary surgery or that they used the cow's skull as a practice for human surgeries.

As researchers found no evidence of healing around the hole, it's possible that the ones who performed the surgery did so in order to save the animal's life, but it did not survive. This supports the possibility of early veterinary surgery, but researchers also question why such great interest would be made in saving an animal that was commonly used for food.

On the other hand, it's also possible that there was no healing because the animal was already dead when the surgery was performed. If that is the case, then there is the possibility that the surgery was performed as a practice for human surgeries.

Either way, the hole provides evidence of early surgical practice whether the surgery was done to save the animal itself or as a practice for human surgeries.

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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