It wouldn't have been a pleasant experience, but archaeological evidence suggests that ancient people knew how to perform procedures as delicate as ear surgery – and have the patient survive.
This finding is based on a skull discovered in 2018 in a tomb in northern Spain, known as the Dolmen of El Pendón, which contains the remains of some 100 individuals. The skull belonged to an older woman who lived approximately 5,300 years ago, and indicates that she had procedures on both ears. Bone growth around the area provides compelling evidence that the woman survived the procedures, which were likely mastoidectomies. Archaeologists think that the surgeries were intended to treat potentially life-threatening infections of the mastoid bones, located right behind the ear.
More about ancient ear surgery:
- Mastoidectomies were commonly used to treat middle ear infections prior to the advent of 20th-century antibiotics, though they were first written about in the 17th century and existing physical evidence showed that they were carried out in the Proto-Byzantine period, as early as 330 C.E.
- The Spanish discovery indicates that people had anatomical and surgical knowledge of the ear many millennia ago, though the procedures would have been incredibly painful, involving drilling into the skull.
- A flint blade found at the Dolmen of El Pendón site had been heated several times to 662 degrees F (350 degrees C) and used to cut bone, suggesting that it could have been the surgical instrument used for the procedures.