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5 February 2015
Scientists recreate ancient Siberian brain surgery

Following the discovery of holes in three ancient human skulls in the Altai Mountains of Siberia, neurosurgeons have been working with anthropologists and archaeologists to determine how the early doctors carried out their work.
     The skulls, belonging to two men and a woman, date to about 2,300 to 2,500 years ago. One of the males, who was aged between 40 and 45, had suffered a head trauma and developed a blood clot that likely left him suffering headaches, nausea, sickness, and movement problems. Evidence of later bone growth indicates the man lived for years after the operation. The second man had no visible traces of trauma, but was suspected of having a congenital skull deformation. In both cases, a relatively small hole was made in the skull allowing surgeons to access the brain at an area where damage to joints and the membrane would have been minimised.
     Prominent Novosibirsk neurosurgeon Aleksei Krivoshapkin said: "All three trepanations were performed by scraping. From the traces on the surface of the studied skulls, you can see the sequence of actions of the surgeons during the operations. It is clearly seen that the ancient surgeons were very exact and confident in their moves, with no traces of unintentional chips, which are quite natural when cutting bone."
     Examination of the skulls showed that only one tool was used. Archaeologists have not yet uncovered any dedicated medical tools, but bronze knives were found in almost all graves from this epoch, regardless of social status. Some speculate that cannabis may have been used as an anaesthetic.
     A replica of a bronze knife from the time was made by archaeologist Andrei Borodovsky, a doctor of historical sciences. Copying the same techniques believed to have been used by the Altai surgeons, it took Professor Krivoshapkin 28 minutes to perform the operation. While he said it "required considerable effort", the hole in the skull was found to mirror those found in the ancient patients.

Edited from The Siberian Times (29 January 2015)

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