Earliest evidence of ear surgery in 5,300-year-old skull found by archaeologists

Evidence of the earliest ear surgery performed on a human was found by archaeologists in Spain in a skull that dates back to about 5,300 years.

Researchers, including those from the University of Valladolid in Spain, analysed the skull that was unearthed in 2018 at the Dolmen of El Pendónis – a dig site near Burgos city, believed to have been used by early humans as a funeral chamber.

The study, published last week in the journal Scientific Reports, found two bilateral perforations in the skull on both mastoid bones, located just behind the ear.

These bones contain mastoid air cells and are thought to protect the delicate structures of the ear, regulate ear pressure and also protect the skull’s temporal bone during trauma.

Scientists found signs that the skull may have undergone mastoidectomy – a surgical procedure likely performed to relieve the pain the prehistoric individual in question may have suffered due to inflammation.

Cut marks on one side of the left ear indicate surgical intervention was performed on the individual – likely a woman between 35 and 50 years old who had also survived the surgery for at least a few months, according to scientists.

“Furthermore, the results of this paper demonstrate the survival of the individual to both interventions,” they said in the study.

The surgery likely performed may have been a mastoidectomy, done to clean out the infected area behind the ear.

If left untreated, infection in this part of the skull is known to spread…

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