The First Recorded Successful Limb Amputation Is Much Older Than You Think

Modern medicine is capable of many life-saving interventions that at one time might have seemed like miracles, according to News 24. Some of these types of procedures, such as limb amputation, are so common it's easy to take them for granted. Many might assume that medical practices of this type are made possible by advances in modern technology and treatments like anesthesia and antibiotics, which is sometimes the case. As scientists working in Borneo discovered, however, as far as limb amputations are concerned, that often life-saving surgery has been around far longer than previously realized, and such operations were performed with nothing more than natural painkillers and hygiene, as Insider reports.

These scientific findings were part of a recent study published in the journal Nature. Dr. Melandri Vlok, a palaeopathologist from the University of Sydney and co-author of the report, said in a press release (via Griffith University), "[I]t was a huge surprise that this ancient forager survived a very serious and life-threatening childhood operation."

The first amputation was once thought to have happened 7,000 years ago

Prior to the Borneo discovery, evidence of the oldest known amputation of a limb was some 7,000 years old, dating from the Neolithic period in France, as Insider goes on to explain. The more recent discovery was made when a skeleton of a young person was uncovered in East Kalimantan, a part of Borneo owned by Indonesia (via PBS). The skeleton found was missing its leg bones between the knee and ankle, and there were signs that those bones were cut, or amputated. 

Further examination of the skeleton also revealed the individual likely lived another six to nine years after the surgery. An exact gender and age could not be determined by scientists, but the amputation probably happened when the patient was between 10 and 14 years old. There were also signs that the patient was well cared for by the community, and that anesthetics and post-surgical hygiene were managed with only what was found in nature. When the individual in question died, there was evidence they were intentionally buried (per Nature).

The skeleton found was 31,000 years old

What's perhaps most remarkable of all about the Borneo discovery is that the skeleton showing signs of a leg amputation is 31,000 years old. The authors of the study also wrote (via Griffith University), "[T]he surrounding tissue, including veins, vessels, and nerves, were exposed and negotiated in such a way that allowed this individual to not only survive but also continue living with altered mobility," demonstrating at least some advanced knowledge of human anatomy.

Ancient rock art has also been discovered in the area of Borneo where the skeleton was discovered. Taking everything into consideration, it suggests that hunter-gatherer societies in that Southeast Asian region were far more advanced than previously realized, as Nature goes on to explain. As Dr. Melandri Vlok pointed out in a press release (via Griffith University), "[T]he wound healed to form a stump, and that they then lived for years in mountainous terrain with altered mobility," suggesting high levels of community care.