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Thread: Hole in the Head: How Medieval Soldiers Survived After Battle Thanks to Early Day Brain Surgery

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    Senior Member velvet's Avatar
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    Hole in the Head: How Medieval Soldiers Survived After Battle Thanks to Early Day Brain Surgery

    A massive haul of bones discovered in a medieval graveyard has given an insight into the medical capabilities of people 1,500 years ago. The skeletons, found in central Italy, show that many soldiers buried close to one another survived after suffering blows to the head with maces and battle axes. There are signs of medical interventions with one man going on to live despite having a two inch hole in his head, probably caused by a Byzantine mace.

    The edges of the wound are smooth and have no fragments, suggesting the victim went through the equivalent of medieval brain surgery. Anthropologist Mauro Rubini said 'Probably the margins were polished with an abrasive instrument.' The bone, from around 500 and 700AD, had started healing and growing closed before the man died. A second skull had a wedge-shaped dent, probably from an axe. He also appears to have survived for a long time after he was hit.

    A third soldier was less lucky. He appears to have suffered from leprosy and he had a sword slash in his head. There are no signs of healing and this makes scientists think he died several hours later. It is likely that, as a leper, he was banished from society but forced to fight because of the tribe he belonged to. Mr Rubini said: 'The Avar society was very inflexible militarily, and in particular situations all are called to contribute to the cause of survival, healthy and sick.

    'Probably this individual was really a leper warrior who died in combat to defend his people against the Byzantinian soldiers.' Scientists hope that they can look more at the man suffering leprosy to learn about how the disease has evolved over time, according to Fox News. The cemetery where the skeletons were uncovered in Campochiaro was likely to be in use as a military outpost under the control of the Lombards.

    They were Germanic people allied to the Avars who were made up of Mongols, Bulgars and Turks. It is likely they were guarding against attacks from the Byzantine south. So far 234 graves have been found with both human and horse remains - a tradition that hails from Siberia, Mongolia and Central Asia. The findings will be covered in the Journal of Archaeological Science.


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    Hole in the Head: How Medieval Soldiers Survived After Battle Thanks to Early Day Brain Surgery

    Brain surgery actually goes back much further, velvet.

    Years ago, my parents took my sister and I to the Smithsonian Institute and I remember the exhibit they had that showed a number of skulls with large holes in them, the result of trepanning (also known as trephination, trephining or making a burr hole, is a surgical intervention in which a hole is drilled or scraped into the human skull, exposing the dura mater in order to treat health problems related to intracranial diseases).

    I even found the mural for the exhibit online:
    http://www.altontobey.com/treph.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trepanning
    http://www.brain-surgery.com/history.html
    http://ahotcupofjoe.net/2010/07/4000...brain-surgery/
    Last edited by TXRog; Saturday, April 16th, 2011 at 05:38 AM. Reason: forgot attachment

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    Senior Member velvet's Avatar
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    It goes probably back even much further, at least plastic surgery is known since several thousand years.

    "Egyptians performed plastic surgery as early as 3400 B.C., but it was in India, sometime between the sixth century B.C. and the sixth century A.D. when the Hindu medical chronicle Susruta Samhita was written, that the skill evolved."

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    Still it is fascinating to know what they all did, since many people believe that until like 200 years ago there was nothing of this kind.
    Ein Leben ist nichts, deine Sprosse sind alles
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    und endet meine Frist, weiss ich dass du noch da bist
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    Senior Member Meadhbh's Avatar
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    Thye've also found mummies in the Andes that look if they've had the same kind of surgery. Despite the risks of infection and the risk of well, a hole in your head. A lot of people the world over seemed to have recovered from this surgey. Which tells us the people preforming these things at least had some idea of what they were doing.

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    Thats incredible! You don't hear much about people back then being advanced enough to perform types of brain surgery, thats amazing.. I don't think that the intelligence of ancient people are publicized enough, a lot of people probably have no idea of the kinds of intelligence many of the civilizations had back then.

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    There's evidence of successful trephination among Neanderthals, IIRC. My sources are Jared Diamond and Brian Fagan, I'm assuming they did their research.

    I believe there's even older evidence for it among H. sapiens, but I'd have to look that up to be absolutely certain. Certainly amputations were accomplished (and healed) in both groups by around 50-60,000BP.
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    Holes in the Head

    As an example of the durability of humans, there is a medical case on file from the late 19th, early 20th century.

    There was a field superintendent who was working on railway project utilizing dynamite to prepare the roadbed. One day he was supervising the tamping of dynamite into a rock blasthole with an iron tamper. The iron tamper created sparks which set off the dyanmite, blew the eight foot long tamper out of the hole striking the superintendent on the bottom side of his jaw. Passing through his mouth and tongue thru the bottom of his braincase, through his brain and out the top of his skull. The man survived for another twentyfive to thirty years. Although, he had some major personality and behaivoral changes from his former self. Precluding his return to his former job. He was kept as a medical study by Doctors so that they could fold back the hair flap covering the "Hole in his head", so that they could observe the healing and workings of his brain and map the personality changes to the areas of the brain which had been damaged.

    So it is no surprise that other massive head injuries have been discovered or that the people have survived.

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    Senior Member Leof's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wittwer View Post
    As an example of the durability of humans, there is a medical case on file from the late 19th, early 20th century.

    There was a field superintendent who was working on railway project utilizing dynamite to prepare the roadbed. One day he was supervising the tamping of dynamite into a rock blasthole with an iron tamper. The iron tamper created sparks which set off the dyanmite, blew the eight foot long tamper out of the hole striking the superintendent on the bottom side of his jaw. Passing through his mouth and tongue thru the bottom of his braincase, through his brain and out the top of his skull. The man survived for another twentyfive to thirty years. Although, he had some major personality and behaivoral changes from his former self. Precluding his return to his former job. He was kept as a medical study by Doctors so that they could fold back the hair flap covering the "Hole in his head", so that they could observe the healing and workings of his brain and map the personality changes to the areas of the brain which had been damaged.

    So it is no surprise that other massive head injuries have been discovered or that the people have survived.
    You are referring to Phineas Cage? It's impressive what plasticity can do to recover the brain after trauma such as that.

    It's worth mentioning that his behavior changes were severely over played by sensationalist newspapers at the time which was common in those days. These days researchers say he probably suffered from chronic pain due to the injury.

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    Member PaleFace's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by velvet View Post

    There are signs of medical interventions with one man going on to live despite having a two inch hole in his head, probably caused by a Byzantine mace.

    The edges of the wound are smooth and have no fragments, suggesting the victim went through the equivalent of medieval brain surgery.

    Anthropologist Mauro Rubini said 'Probably the margins were polished with an abrasive instrument.'

    The bone, from around 500 and 700AD, had started healing and growing closed before the man died.
    Does anyone know to what extent can a hole like that can heal? I had no idea that the skull would actually start to grow to shrink the hole a little, that is what this article said happens right? How much can a skull shrink a hole? Can a skull ever shrink a hole completely and cover it up? Does it shrink the hole a lot or only to a small degree?

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    Senior Member svartleby's Avatar
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    From what I understand the hole can only heal so much in a lifetime. At least that's what I've gathered from these guys. http://www.trepan.com/

    As far as historical use goes, I think it was generally ( in Europe) used to relieve skull pressure after a blow to the head.
    Last edited by svartleby; Monday, December 19th, 2011 at 02:35 PM. Reason: typo

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