QUEBEC-RESEARCH-L ArchivesArchiver > QUEBEC-RESEARCH > 2004-10 > 1097022955
Subject: Excerpt Of History
Date: Tue, 5 Oct 2004 20:35:55 EDT
Medieval surgeons were advanced
Surgeons were carrying out complicated skull operations in medieval times,
the remains of a body found at an archaeological dig show.
A skull belonging to a 40-year-old peasant man, who lived between 960 and
1100AD, is the firmest evidence yet of cranial surgery, say its discoverers.
The remains, found in Yorkshire, show the man survived an otherwise fatal
blow to the head thanks to surgery.
Nearly 700 skeletons were unearthed by English Heritage at a site near
Scientists have been examining the remains from the now deserted village of
Once a thriving community built on sheep farming, it fell into steep decline
after the Black Death and was eventually completely abandoned.
The skull in question, dating back to the 11th century, had been struck a
near-fatal blow by a blunt weapon, causing a severe depressed fracture on the
left hand side.
Closer examination revealed the victim had been given life-saving surgery
A rectangular area of the scalp, measuring 9cm by 10cm, would have been
lifted to allow the depressed bone segments to be carefully removed.
This would have relieved the pressure on the brain.
Roman and Greek writings document the technique of trepanning for treating
skull fractures, but there is no mention of it in Anglo-Saxon literature.
Some historians have theorised that western Europe was deprived of such
surgical knowledge for centuries after the fall of Alexandria in the 7th century.
Dr Simon Mays, skeletal biologist at English Heritage's Centre for
Archaeology, said: "This skull is the best evidence we have that such surgery to treat
skull fractures was being performed in England at the time.
"It predates medieval written accounts of the procedure by at least 100
years and is a world away from the notions that Anglo-Saxon healers were all
about spells and potions."
Skulls dating back to Neolithic times show trepanning was performed on
individuals with no head wounds.
Historians believe this was presumably to treat other ailments, possibly
including mental illness.
The skull of the 40-year-old Yorkshire peasant shows the fracture healed
Scientists believe the hole that remained would have eventually closed over
with hard scar tissue.
But they have questioned how a peasant would have been able to afford this
complicated medical treatment.
Examination of the other skeletons at the site revealed high levels of
malnutrition, disease and stunted growth.
Dr Mays said: "Medical skills were largely reserved for the elite.
"So the treatment handed out to Wharram's peasant doesn't square at all with
our knowledge of the period.
"It seems most probable that the operation was performed by an itinerant
healer of unusual skill, whose medical acumen was handed down through oral
Ten of the other skeletons, including a child, also showed signs of head
injury caused by blunt objects.
Dr Mays said: "Violence at Wharram seemed to involve objects that were near
at hand, like farming tools.
"The peasant was probably involved in the medieval equivalent of a pub
fight, or could have been the victim of a robbery or a family feud."