Ancient egyptian skull suggests early attempts at cancer surgery

Perhaps the first surgical operations against tumors were attempted as early as 4000 years ago, as emerges from the analysis of a skull that belonged to a man who lived between 2687 and 2345 BC.

A team of scientists has analyzed a skull over 4,000 years old, uncovering potential evidence of an ancient cancer surgery in Egypt. The skull, designated as number 236, belonged to a young man estimated to be between 30 and 35 years old, who lived between 2687 and 2345 B.C.

The discovery, along with another skull identified as E270, was detailed in a study published in the journal Frontiers in Medicine by Tatiana Tondini of the University of Tübingen and her colleagues. Microscopic examination of skull 236 revealed a large lesion and about 30 smaller metastasized lesions, consistent with cancer.

What astonished the researchers were the cut marks surrounding these lesions, likely made with a sharp metal tool. “When we first saw the cut marks under the microscope, we couldn’t believe what we were facing,” explained Tondini. This finding suggests that the ancient Egyptians may have attempted surgical interventions to remove the tumor or to better understand the disease.

Did women play a role in wars?

The second skull, E270, exhibited a large lesion consistent with a tumor that had destroyed the bone, along with two healed traumatic injuries, likely caused by a sharp weapon. This indicates that the individual may have received treatment that allowed her to survive.

The presence of these injuries on a woman is unusual, as most violent wounds found on skeletal remains are male. This might suggest a need to rethink the role of women in ancient conflicts, hinting that women could have been involved in some form of warfare.

Edgard Camarós, a paleopathologist at the University of Santiago de Compostela, asserted that this study represents a significant contribution to paleo-oncology but emphasized the need for further research to clarify how ancient societies dealt with cancer. This change in perspective provides an encouraging foundation for future investigations into how ancient civilizations managed this disease.

Source: Frontiers in Medicine

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