Ancient Brain Surgery
© Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
A cow skull showing evidence of cranial surgery.

Most people think surgery is a modern concept, but if the knife-handed skeleton discovered in Italy proves anything, it's that ancient medical tech can be surprisingly advanced (but no less terrifying).

Today, a new game-changing archaeological discovery just rewrote medical history: New evidence suggests that humans have been experimenting with brain surgery for a lot longer than anyone expected. A 5,000-year-old cow skull has been discovered in Vendée, France, that has a cleanly bored hole right through the bone, and it looks like humans were using it for practice.

Vendée is hypothesized to have been the site of an ancient trading hub during the Neolithic era, and two of the major commodities coming through were cattle and salt.

Finding cattle skulls in the area isn't surprising, but the skull in question had a large, regular hole that appeared to be the work of a drill or other cutting implement. Luckily, archaeologists had two human skulls from the same period that had also been the subjects of ancient brain surgery, so they compared the patterns of markings and looked for similarities.

Other potential explanations, such as cancer, erosion, being gored by another cow, or postmortem scavenging by animals, were ruled out when archaeologists found long, parallel marks and evidence of scraping around the hole, which matched the marks found on the human skulls.

What does this mean? Well, one of two things, according to the new study published in Scientific Reports:

"If bone surgery on the cow cranium was performed in order to save the animal, Champ-Durant would provide the earliest evidence of veterinary surgical practice. Alternatively, the evidence of surgery on this cranium can also suggest that Neolithic people practiced on domestic animals in order to perfect the technique before applying it to humans."

On the one hand, it's fascinating that ancient people were already exploring brain surgery five millennia ago.

On the other hand, modern surgeons were performing lobotomies up until the 20th century with horrifying results. Whatever brain surgery Neolithic people were practicing, chances are it wasn't pretty.