Although some form of artificial limb, such as a forked stick, has undoubtedly been used since the dawn of time, the earliest recorded use of a limb prosthesis is that of a Persian soldier, Hegesistratus, who was reported by Herodotus to have escaped from stocks around 484 B.C. by cutting off one of his feet and replacing it with a wooden one. The oldest known artificial limb was a copper-and-wood leg discovered in Capri, Italy, in 1858, which was allegedly made around 300 B.C. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during a World War II bombing of London.
According to researchers, a child living on the Indonesian island of Borneo around 31,000 years ago underwent the oldest known surgical operation, an amputation of the lower left leg. According to archaeologist Tim Maloney of Griffith University in Southport, Australia, and colleagues, one or more hunter-gatherers who performed the operation had detailed knowledge of human anatomy and considerable technical skill, allowing the youngster to avoid fatal blood loss and infection.
A child living on the Indonesian island of Borneo around 31,000 years ago underwent the oldest known surgical operation, an amputation of the lower left leg. One or more hunter-gatherers who performed the operation had detailed knowledge of human anatomy and considerable technical skill, allowing the youngster to avoid fatal blood loss and infection.Tim Maloney
According to the researchers, healed bone where the lower leg was amputated indicates that the ancient youth survived for at least six to nine years after surgery before dying at the age of 19 or 20. Because there is no evidence of an accident or animal bite at the amputation site, the researchers believe the operation was caused by an unidentified medical problem.
In 2020, Maloney’s team excavated this person’s remains from a grave inside a large, three-chambered cave. Radiocarbon dating of burned wood fragments near the grave, combined with another dating technique on a tooth from the youth’s lower jaw, allowed the researchers to estimate when the surgery occurred.
The oldest known amputation occurred nearly 7,000 years ago, when a farmer from France had his left forearm surgically removed. Surgery to create skull openings may have occurred as early as 13,000 years ago in North Africa.
Maloney’s group suspects that ancient people on Borneo developed antiseptic treatments from local plants in response to rapid wound infections in a tropical region. It’s unknown what type of tool was used in the Stone Age operation or whether the patient was sedated with a plant-based concoction.