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Mesolithic Surgery April 9, 1998
by Amélie A. Walker

New accelerator radiocarbon dating of the Dnieper Rapids cemeteries near Kiev in Ukraine by the Oxford Radiocarbon Laboratory has produced evidence that trepanation, the surgical removal of bone from the cranial vault, was performed during the Mesolithic period. During a study of 14 individuals at the Vasilyevka II cemetery, Malcolm C. Lillie, a geoarchaeologist and palaeoenvironmentalist at the University of Hull, found one skeleton (no. 6285-9) to have evidence of trepanation. The cemetery, excavated in 1953 by A.D. Stolyar, has been dated to 7300-6220 B.C., making the trepanned cranium the oldest known example of a healed trepanation yet discovered. The skull, which was originally reported in Russian by I.I. Gokhman in 1966, has a depression on its left side with a raised border of bone and "stepping" in the center showing stages of healing during life. The complete closure indicates the survival of the patient, a man who was more than 50 years old at his death. The dates for the individual are 1,000-2,000 years earlier than those of the skull at Ensisheim in France, recently reported by Kurt Alt to be the earliest evidence for trepanation (see "Neolithic Surgery," September/October 1997).

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America