A man with a hole in his forehead, who was buried in what is now northwestern Alabama between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago, represents the oldest known case of skull surgery in North America.
Damage around the oval opening in the man’s skull indicates that someone scraped away that piece of bone, likely to reduce brain swelling caused by a violent attack or serious fall, said bioarchaeologist Diana Simpson of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Either scenario could explain the fractures and other injuries to the man’s left eye and to his left arm, leg and collarbone.
New bone growth at the edges of the skull opening indicates the man lived for up to a year after surgery, Simpson estimated. she introduced her analysis of the man’s remains on March 28 in a virtual session of the annual meeting of the American Association of Biological Anthropologists.
skull surgery It happened 13,000 years ago in the north of Africa (Serial number: 8/17/11). So far, the oldest evidence of this practice in North America dates back no more than about 1,000 years.
In his prime, the new record holder likely served as a ritual practitioner or shaman. His tomb included items like those found in shaman tombs at nearby North American hunter-gatherer sites dating to between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago. Ritual objects buried with him included sharp bone pins and modified deer and turkey bones that may have been tattoo tools (Serial number: 05/25/21).
Researchers excavated the man’s grave and 162 others at the Little Bear Creek site, a seashell-covered burial mound, in the 1940s. Simpson studied the skeleton and items from the man’s grave at the museum in 2018, shortly before the discoveries were returned to local Native American communities for reburial.