Risky skull surgery done for ritual reasons 6,000 years ago | Science News


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Risky skull surgery done for ritual reasons 6,000 years ago

Bone regrowth shows most survived operation to cut back-of-the-head holes

7:00am, May 2, 2016
trepanated skull

RITUAL CUT  An almost 6,000-year-old human skull from southern Russia contains a large opening at the back of the head created by cutting away bone with a sharp instrument. Researchers suspect many skull surgeries in southern Russia at that time were performed for ritual, not medical, reasons.

Surgery has some surprisingly ritual roots.

Between around 6,000 and 4,000 years ago, skilled surgeons in southwestern Russia cut holes the size of silver dollars, or larger, out of the backs of people’s skulls. But the risky procedure wasn’t performed for medical reasons: These skull surgeries fulfilled purely ritual needs, a new study suggests. And those on the cutting end of the procedure usually lived.

Skulls of 13 people previously excavated at seven ancient sites in this region contain surgical holes in the same spot, in the middle of the back of the head, say archaeologist Julia Gresky of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin and her colleagues. That’s a particularly dangerous location for this kind of skull surgery, also known as trepanation, the scientists report online April 21 in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. It’s not an area

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