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6 September 2010
Bronze Age brain surgery in Turkey?

Archaeologist Onder Bilgi has been excavating the site of Ikiztepe, Samsun, in northern Turkey for some 37 years now. The Bronze Age inhabitants lived in hard-to-excavate log houses with courtyards and ovens at the front and the village was home to perhaps 300 inhabitants at its peak between 3200 and 2100 BCE. They were evidently skilled metalworkers, since finds include tools, jewellery, religious symbols and weapons; in fact, according to Bilgi, the villagers may sometimes have had to fight their neighbours for access to sources of copper located in mines in nearby mountains.
     At the nearby cemetery, 14 of the 700 excavated skulls show cut marks that could only have been made with a very sharp tool. Bilgi suspects the two obsidian blades recently found near a circular clay platform that could have had some religious or ceremonial function. The blades are 4 cm long and must have been imported since obsidian, a kind of volcanic glass that produces extremely sharp cutting surfaces when fractured, is not found locally.
     The cut marks show that a rectangular opening was made through into the skull and Bilgi suggests reasons why such procedures may have been performed. The treatment of head injuries could be one reason, while relieving the pressure from brain haemorrhages and cancer, both indicated by traces on the inside of skulls, would be another. Bilgi also notes that "patients lived at least two to three years after surgery, because the skull has tried to close the wound."
     The painstaking excavation of the site, carried out with small tools such as brioches and spatulas, will continue.

Source: New Scientist (31 August 2010)

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