Humans Might Have Practiced Brain Surgery on Cows 5000 Years Ago

Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi

In the 1970s, archaeologists discovered a site in France containing hundreds of cow skeletons dating back 5000 to 5400 years. The sheer number wasn't surprising—human agriculture in that part of the world was booming by 3000 BCE. What perplexed scientists was something uncovered there a few decades later: a cow skull bearing a thoughtfully drilled hole. Now, a team of researchers has released evidence that suggests the hole is an early example of animal brain surgery.

Fernando Ramírez Rozzi, a paleontologist with the French National Center for Scientific Research, and Alain Froment, an anthropologist at the Museum of Mankind in Paris, published their findings in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. After comparing the opening to the holes chiseled into the skulls of humans from the same era, they found the bones bore some striking similarities. They didn't show any signs of fracturing from blunt force trauma; rather, the hole in the cow skull, like those in the human skulls, seemed to have been carved out carefully using a tool made for exactly that purpose. That suggests that the hole is evidence of the earliest known veterinary surgery performed by humans.

Trepanation, or the practice of boring holes into human skulls, is one of the oldest forms of surgery. Experts are still unsure why ancient humans did this, but the level of care that went into the procedures suggests that the surgery was likely used to treat sick patients while they were still alive. Why a person would perform this same surgery on a cow, however, is harder to explain.

The authors present a few theories, the first being that these ancient brain surgeons were treating a sick cow the same way they might treat a sick human. If a cow was suffering from a neural disease like epilepsy, perhaps they though that cutting a hole in its head would relieve whatever was agitating the brain. The cow would have needed to be pretty special to warrant such an effort when there were hundreds of healthy cows living on the same plot of land, as evidenced by the skeletons it was found with.

Another possible explanation was that whoever operated on the cow did so as practice to prepare them for drilling into the heads of live humans one day. "Cranial surgery requires great manual dexterity and a complete knowledge of the anatomy of the brain and vessel distribution," the authors write in the study. "It is possible that the mastery of techniques in cranial surgery shown in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods was acquired through experimentation on animals."

Either way, the bovine patient didn't live to see the results of the procedure: The bone around the hole hadn't healed at all, which suggests the cow either died during surgery or wasn't alive to begin with.

4000-Year-Old Egyptian Tomb Opens to the Public for the First Time

Khaled Desouki, AFP/Getty Images
Khaled Desouki, AFP/Getty Images

Sightseers traveling to Egypt have a new stop to add to their itineraries. As CNN reports, the 4000-year-old tomb of a royal vizier has opened to the public for the first time since its discovery.

Mehu was a high-ranking advisor to King Titi of the sixth dynasty sometime around 2300 BCE. He was buried in Egypt's Old Kingdom not far from modern-day Giza, home to the Great Pyramids and the Great Sphinx.

The walls of the tomb are decorated with well-preserved, brightly-colored paintings, which include everyday scenes like fishing and metalworking, as well as more fantastical images such as a crocodile marrying a turtle. Mehu's son Meren Ra and his grandson Heteb Kha are also buried there.

The site was discovered by Egyptologist Zaki Saad in 1940. By inviting members of public to explore the chambers, Egypt hopes to draw even more tourists to the region.

You can take a look inside the tomb by watching the video below.

[h/t CNN]

Fishermen Caught a 10,500-Year-Old Giant Irish Elk Skull—Antlers and All

Courtesy of Ardboe Gallery
Courtesy of Ardboe Gallery

The Irish elk (megaloceros giganteus) has been extinct in Ireland for about 10,500 years. So you can imagine how surprised two fishermen were when they pulled up their net and discovered a prehistoric elk skull—with antlers attached—as their catch of the day.

As Smithsonian reports, Raymond McElroy and Charlie Coyle were fishing in Ireland's Lough Neagh, a lake near the town of Ardboe, when they thought their net had snagged on a piece of driftwood. However, when they finally managed to hoist it out of the water, they discovered the skull with antlers measuring over six feet across.

"I thought it was the devil himself," Coyle told The Irish Times. "I was going to throw it back in. I didn't know what to do with it."

McElroy, however, recalled that a jawbone of an ancient Irish elk (possibly from the same animal discovered by the fishermen) was caught in the same area in 2014. For the time being, he's keeping the skull in his garage.

This particular elk probably stood about 6.5 feet tall. It's worth noting, though, that the name "Irish elk" is a bit of a misnomer. The animal is actually classified as a type of deer—in fact, the largest deer to ever have existed.

The "Irish" part of the name stems from the fact that fossils of the animal are often discovered in Ireland's lakes and bogs, which help preserve the bones. However, the animals once roamed throughout Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia. It was roughly the same size as a modern-day moose, weighed about 1300 pounds, and some animals needed a clearance of 13 feet just to squeeze their antlers between the trees.

"Giant antlers aren't great in the forest," Mike Simms at the Ulster Museum tells Belfast Live. "Environmental change is what caused their extinction."

And thus, the Irish elk joined giant sloths, giant beavers, saber-toothed tigers, mastodons, and mammoths in the enormous extinct animals club, never to be seen again (or at least until the next fishing expedition).

[h/t Smithsonian]

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