Left and right legs with pelvic girdle demonstrating the complete absence of the left lower leg and foot. Credit: Tim Maloney
The discovery, published in Nature, describes the skeletal remains of a young adult found in a cave in Borneo, who had part of the left lower leg and left foot amputated, probably as a child, at least 31,000 years ago. The person survived the surgical procedure, living for at least another six to nine years.
The find presents a remarkable feat in human prehistory. It is notoriously difficult to prevent infections in surgical amputations, even to this day. Yet 30,000 years ago a community was able to successfully navigate veins, arteries, nerves, and tissue, and keep the wound clean so that it healed successfully. The individual went on the live into adulthood where an unknown cause eventually led to their death.
Bioarchaeologist and an expert in ancient skeletons, Dr Melandri Vlok, at University of Sydney said the find is “incredibly exciting and unexpected”.
“The discovery implies that at least some modern human foraging groups in tropical Asia had developed sophisticated medical knowledge and skills long before the Neolithic farming transition,” said Dr Vlok, who is co-lead author of the paper and a postdoctoral research associate in Sydney Southeast Asia Centre.