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Main: An ancient skull found in Peru with evidence of surgical intervention. Credit: Danielle Kurin. Inset: 4,000-year-old “scalpels”

4,000-Year-Old Stone Scalpels Found in Peru Shed Light on Ancient Medical Practices

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A team of archeologists has unearthed a set of slate-stone instruments that are similar to scalpels. The artifacts are 4,000 years old and are believed to have been used by ancient Peruvian healers to make surgical incisions on patients.

According to  Manila Bulletin , the artifacts were discovered in the community of Papahuasi, Huanuco, on the left bank of the Huallaga River, 431 km north of Lima in central Peru. The finding reveals that the local Quechua-speaking Yachaq indigenous people practiced medicine. The tools, which closely resemble scalpels, were discovered along with the mummies of 16 adults and children. Their bodies were laid to rest in the fetal position, which according to the beliefs of these people, was a position symbolizing rebirth.

A Peruvian Tumi scalpel. Andean cultures such as the Paracas have used the tumi for the neurological procedure of skull trepanation. Sican Culture Ceremonial Knife (Tumi) held at the Birmingham Museum of Art

A Peruvian Tumi scalpel. Andean cultures such as the Paracas have used the tumi for the neurological procedure of skull trepanation. Sican Culture Ceremonial Knife (Tumi) held at the Birmingham Museum of Art ( public domain )

As Antonio Robles, the curator of the Municipal Museum of History in Churubamba, in the northern Andean province of Huanuco, said:

''Evidence of the practice of medicine among these people is revealed in the practice of cranial perforation and mummification, because to mummify (a body) requires knowledge of medical techniques. You have to know the human body. It’s not just about cutting the corpse of the deceased, but knowing mummification techniques and, obviously, healing techniques. It is evident that the inhabitants of this area practised medicine, (it is) totally unusual, because most of the inhabitants… were farmers, hunters, gatherers and warriors. Finding a town that practised medicine is really interesting, deserving an extensive study''.

The site also contained stone mortars used to grind medicinal plants, and other medical tools. The first significant discoveries related to these people were made 14 years ago by the team led by Yoshio Onuki, a Japanese archeologist who published many precious works about his research. However, the topic of pre-Columbian medicine of Peru isn't a new topic. As Liz Leafloor from Ancient Origins explained in her article:

''Drilling holes in the head, otherwise known as trepanation, is the earliest surgical technique known. Holes were bored into a patient’s skull in an attempt to relieve physical ailments and mental illness. Researchers have now discovered the first example of the drilling technique used on other body parts in pre-Columbian Peru.

In a study published in the  International Journal of Paleopathology , physical anthropologist and professor at  University of Central Florida  , Dr. J Marla Toyne writes that marks were identified on two skeletons found at the pre-Columbian site of Kuelap, in northeastern Peru. The bones of the individuals, dated to 800–1535 AD, displayed evidence of having undergone drilling techniques on their legs in a manner similar to trepanation. It is thought this was done to treat a possible lower leg infection, and this is a rare find.''

First example of ancient surgical drilling technique on bones which aren’t skulls.

First example of ancient surgical drilling technique on bones which aren’t skulls. Credit: J M Toyne, 2015

Moreover, archaeologists excavating burial caves in the south-central Andean province of Andahuaylas in Peru discovered the remains of 32 individuals dating back to between 750 and 1000 years. Apart from this, the researchers found evidence of 45 separate surgical procedures on the skulls of the individuals.  

According to an article by April Holloway, ''cranial surgery, known as trephination, is one of the first ever surgical practices and is known to have begun in the Neolithic era. It involves drilling a hole in the skull of a living person to cure illness such as convulsions, headaches, infections or fractures. Although there is some merit to the technique and it is still practiced today for the relief of subdural haematoma, there is evidence to suggest that in ancient times people believed that illness was caused by a trapped spirit and that drilling a hole would allow the spirit to escape.

A Nazca-Peruvian skull operation from 2000 years ago presumably to relieve a front cavity inflammation.

A Nazca-Peruvian skull operation from 2000 years ago presumably to relieve a front cavity inflammation. ( tsaiproject / flickr )

The skulls found in Peru show evidence that sections of the cranium were removed using a hand drill or a scraping tool, and this was conducted, of course, without the use of modern luxuries like anaesthesia.  While some have suggested the skull traumas may have been the result of torture, Kurin explained that some of the remains showed evidence of their hair having been shaved and a herbal remedy placed over the wound, which all point to the fact that this was an attempt to heal sick or injured individuals.''

Top image: Main: An ancient skull found in Peru with evidence of surgical intervention. Credit: Danielle Kurin. Inset: 4,000-year-old “scalpels” (Xinhua | mb.com.ph)

By Natalia Klimzcak

Comments

I was just throwing out an example of a known "Combination" of plants chemically dependent on each other to achieve the desired effect:

http://www.singingtotheplants.com/2012/04/on-origins-of-ayahuasca

There may be Ancient knowledge lost over the years but I'm sure they had something to knock patients out while they cut into their Brains. What Plant combinations? What part of each Plant and how much? What preparations? In the Amazon these source combination possibilities are endless.

Not to mention Frog licking and Bug crushing...

I do not think that the ingestion of Ayahuasca was for the sole purpose of producing hallucinations as you put it.

As J R Bentley mentions Ayahuasca is a mixture of various herbal parts. Specifically combining Banisteriopsis Caapi Vine (the base ingredent ) with Psychotria Viridis. This is the most common combination that if taken in a strong enough dose (dose being the key word/imply here ) can produce various states of altered consciousness.

There are at least to the best of my knowledge another 20 or so other plant parts that can be added to this combination, or combine 1 or more of these other plants with Banisteriopsis Caapi Vine to produce various results
.
Any and all results/effects of taking these decoctions, the potency and or any psychoactive effect is and will be based on the skill of whom ever is preparing this brew. The combination of any plant(s) and it’s potency will/would be based on what (?) is being treated.

It could be possible that any of these potential herbal combinations could produce a state comparable to an ‘anesthesia’. Or, a brew of this sort could be injested internally to ‘place’ someone in the right state of mind for surgery (to deal with the ‘pain’) then a substance used topically applied for/during the surgery.

Or various states of meditation or trances could be introduced to deal with the pain. Or they could have had a technique since lost to time similar to Acupuncture which can be used as an ‘anesthesia’.

One possible topical substance that could have been used would be KAMBOO- the Giant Monkey Frog which secretes a waxy poison from the skin.

This substance contains many peptides that benefit the human body. Some of these peptides can transverse the blood brain barrier and stimulate the endocrine system. Kambo has antibiotic properties, strengthens the immune system, destroys pathogenic micro-organisms and has anti-inflammatory properties.

Kambo also contains the opiod peptides Dermorphin and Deltorphin which bind to human receptors which triggers a pain masking response. 4,000 times stronger then morphine and 40 times stronger then B-endorphins, the body’s natural pain killer.

There is another aspect to take under consideration here. Cultural differences. Perhaps they did not use any anesthesia as we know it.

Since the early 1960’s the focus with Modern Western Medicine, it’s mandate doctrine is to ease/eradicate pain and suffering and to extend life.

Many cultures see ‘pain’ as perhaps being different then the West. Pain serves a purpose. Pain is telling you that something somewhere is not ‘right’ and this needs to be addressed.

Some cultures instead of masking the pain, rather then ignoring the pain by taking something to ’block’ it, they will address the ‘root’ of the pain. Meaning they acknowledge that the pain is there, accept it as such and deal with it in their ‘own way’.

I really do not think that Ayahuasca was used as as an anesthetic. Being under the influence and having ones skull trepanned would trigger some really, really unpleasant hallucinations. “Everything that man requires can be found in nature.”

 

I love the "Controversial" Articles you post here! Almost too hard to believe...but the proof is there. One point though, You can bet that they absolutely had very effective sources of Natural Anesthesia. They just had to be "mixed" in a fashion that is now lost to us. Ayahuasca for example, It is actually a combination of more than one plant source to achieve the desired effect.

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