People Were Performing Brain Surgery As Far Back As The Bronze Age, Here’s How

Researchers recently found a body containing an angular notch approach that is similar to the craniotomy that we know of today.

By Trista Sobeck | Updated

Brain surgery

Our histories are told in the bones of those who have gone before us and those who have faded away to dust. Humans have always tried to stop the inevitability of death, it seems. Before there were doctors or surgeons or anything close to saving a person, there was fear.

And fear will make things happen fast. This is the case with brain surgery and medical advances that occurred as far back as the Bronze Age. And the techniques we developed in 3300 BC have managed to stick around. The power that the race to escape death brings spans eons. 

Archeologists discovered a tomb of a young man and his brother. According to NPR, those in the Bronze Period, as far back as 3300 BC, had been performing brain surgery of what is now known as a craniotomy. The procedure, then called a trephination, was when a small square hole was cut directly into the skull in an attempt to let some pressure out when the brain swells due to illness or injury. 

Because of one body’s recent brain surgery, it appeared they both had suffered from some kind of chronic illness. Things left behind indicate that these bodies belonged to well-respected families and were treated with respect. This gives us a look back at how those with illnesses were treated. They were adorned with food, and great care was taken to make them feel better. (Hence, the trephination).

The hole archeologists found in the body’s skull shows that brain surgery was attempted before death. This tells us surgeons–or some type of medically trained people who could do an early brain surgery–was trying to help the person before death to ease the suffering of some kind.

We live in such a chaotic time with so much division and catastrophic trauma going on around us that it’s hard to see we are right in the middle of a timeline that shows us the struggle of the human body. From Bronze Age brain surgery to robots performing surgery in space, we have always tried to find ways to ease suffering and prolong life just a little longer–even if it was not to be. 

Modern medicine has brought us many types of medical breakthroughs, from finding help for those who have suffered a stroke and need to relearn many skills to turning to vitamins and supplements to help us stay healthy. And, of course, now we know that brain surgery has been an option for centuries. Although scientists have seen this type of procedure done by humans in the Neolithic period, this was the first time they saw an “angular notch” approach similar to the craniotomy we know today.