A 3,000-year-old skull surgery in Alabama

Science News checks out the evidence for the oldest known skull surgery in America, a forehead-opening operation that took place between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago in what is now known as the Little Bear Creek Site, a seashell covered burial mound in Alabama:

Damage around the man’s oval skull opening indicates that someone scraped out that piece of bone, probably to reduce brain swelling caused by a violent attack or a serious fall, said bioarchaeologist Diana Simpson of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Either scenario could explain fractures and other injuries above the man’s left eye and to his left arm, leg and collarbone.

Bone regrowth on the edges of the skull opening indicates that the man lived for up to one year after surgery, Simpson estimated.

Until now, the oldest evidence of this practice in North America dated to no more than roughly 1,000 years ago.

In his prime, the new record holder likely served as a ritual practitioner or shaman. His grave included items like those found in shamans’ graves at nearby North American hunter-gatherer sites dating to between about 3,000 and 5,000 years ago.