Skully’s People

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The discovery of a human skeleton in Indonesia is rewriting the history of medicine and reframing long-held notions that prehistoric hunter-gatherers were primitive, USA Today reported.

That’s because the skeleton, named “Skully” and found at a Liang Tebo cave in Borneo, known to hold some of the world’s oldest rock art, underwent the world’s oldest surgery procedure, about 31,000 years ago, a new study said.

The archeologists reached this conclusion while collecting the remains: They found about three-quarters of the bones but noticed that Skully was missing a left foot. A closer inspection revealed that Skully’s foot was amputated with some surgical precision.

But the story of Skully – and their community – was quite intricate, the research team explained: The bones’ analysis showed that Skully received an amputation during their childhood but lived with a missing foot until the age of 19 or 20.

The amputated part showed that the bone did not experience any infection and the “doctor” who performed it had knowledge of the procedure. Moreover, Skully’s longevity underscores how the community had some form of medical know-how in taking care of its wounded and disabled – including the use of antiseptics.

The researchers stressed that the findings challenge the “prevailing view” of the evolution of medicine and human life at the time. It also adds to the body of evidence that contests previous assessments that hunter-gatherer groups were “simple societies.”

“This was a person who suffered something incredibly severe and managed to survive as a child,” said co-author Melandri Vlok. “And so it’s a story about them. And it’s the story about the community and people who loved and cared for this individual enough to help them survive.”

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