Sep 7, 2022 - World

World's oldest amputation may have happened in Stone Age, study says

A cave in Borneo, Malaysia.
A cave in Borneo. Photo: Gunter Fischer/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Researchers may have just found evidence of the world's oldest amputation, dating back to the Stone Age, in a cave in Indonesia, according to a new study.

The big picture: The discovery means humans may have been practicing amputation earlier than previously thought without medical tools and medications that are deemed necessary today.

Details: Scientists in a new study — published Wednesday in the journal Nature — discovered a 31,000-year-old skeleton without a foot that appeared to have been removed through surgery.

  • The amputation likely happened to a child, who lived many years after the foot was removed.
  • Before this research, the oldest confirmed amputation likely occurred 7,000 years ago on a man's arm in France, according to Science.
  • Multiple scientists involved with the study did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.

Zoom in: Researchers discovered the footless skeleton in a cave on the island of Borneo, which is believed to have some of the earliest rock structures in the world, the Associated Press reports.

  • The skeleton did not have a left foot and was missing part of its lower left leg. Scientists investigated the remains and concluded that the foot was likely removed rather than lost, AP reports.

What they're saying: Co-author Melandri Vlok, a bioarchaeologist at the University of Sydney, told Science that the shin bones appeared to be fused at the bottom, which indicates the person may have been healed there after surgery.

  • “It looks exactly like what you would expect if a sharp blade cut completely perpendicular to the bone,” Vlok said, per Science. “It made us confident this was surgery.”

The bottom line: “It had long been assumed healthcare is a newer invention,” Alecia Schrenk, an anthropologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, told the AP. “Research like this article demonstrates that prehistoric peoples were not just left to fend for themselves.”

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