People Did Trepanation and Heart Transplant Surgery 5,000-10,000 Years Ago?

Trepanated skull, Neolithic. The perimeter of the hole in the skull is rounded off by ingrowth of new bony tissue, indicating that the patient survived the operation. (Image: wikimedia commons/wiki/File:Crane-trepanation-img_0507_crop.jpg)
Trepanated skull, Neolithic. The perimeter of the hole in the skull is rounded off by ingrowth of new bony tissue, indicating that the patient survived the operation. (Image: wikimedia commons/wiki/File:Crane-trepanation-img_0507_crop.jpg)

With thousands of years of human development, modern medical science seems to be quite advanced, as organ transplantation, various vaccines and state-of-the-art medical equipment have been in place. That being the case, many people tend to think that medical science in ancient times was backward. But evidence of trepanation and cardiac surgery 5,000 years ago have been found in archaeological sites. Not only is it beyond modern people’s imagination, but it also changes people rigid mindset about ancient medicine.

Ancient trepanation

Ancient trepanation originated in Europe, South America, and the Pacific region, respectively. It is said that the earliest trepanation in Europe dates back as early as 8,000 or 10,000 years ago. But in term of volume, South America had the lion’s share.

In the History Museum at the Sapienza University of Rome, there is a collection containing a child’s skull with a 5-cm diameter hole, which dates back to the 2nd century. After years of research by experts, it is believed that the boy had undergone trepanation. The curator of the Museum, Valentina Gazzaniga, said the surgeons had used special scalpels and ways to cut the skull at an exact location.

The Relic and Archaeological Institute of Shandong Province, China, excavated an adult male skull dating back 5,000 years in the Dawenkou Neolithic cultural sites at Guangrao County’s Fu Jia Village.  On the right side of the skull’s top rear part, there is a 3.1 × 2.5-cm diameter perforated round hole in a very smooth and homogeneous circular shape.

With rigorous studies including X-ray and spiral CT scans as well as three-dimensional image reconstruction, medical experts found that the hole in the skull was scraped with sharp artificial tools.

Professor Bao Xiufengat, the Qilu Hospital of Shandong University, said: “It’s apparently the clue to surgery.” Wu Xinzhi, academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said, “The edge of the arc-shaped opening is the sign of natural repair. It can only be done through very fine modification and the repair of bone tissues. It indicates that the deceased in the tomb had survived for a very long time after the surgery. This prehistoric surgery was a successful one.”

Heart transplants in Egypt

In 1986, an archaeological team found an artificial heart in a boy mummy’s chest in an Egyptian pyramid.

Ancient Egyptians had already known how to plant artificial hearts in a human’s chest through sophisticated surgery 5,000 years ago. Archaeologists from Germany, Belgium, and Egypt were also surprised to find an artificial heart in the chest of a mummy, which was exactly identical to what was in the boy mummy’s chest. That mummy was a female estimated to be around 34 years old. Because she suffered from late-stage heart disease, she had undergone an artificial heart transplant. That artificial heart was as big as an adult’s fist, and was made of plastic and a kind of unknown alloy. It’s similar to the artificial hearts that we have nowadays. Scientists said that though modern scientific technology is so advanced, this kind of surgery is still not that common. In this regard, they felt quite surprised.

 

Chinese edited by Lulu, translated by Billy Shyu

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