Mammoth bone hut

The first houses were thought to be windbreaks made of animals skins stretched over a frame. There is evidence that “Homo Erectus” constructed 50-foot-long branch huts with stone slabs or animal skins for floors.

The oldest recognized buildings in the world are twelve 400,000-year-old huts found in Nice, France in 1960. Uncovered by an excavator preparing to build a new house, the oval shelters ranged from 26 feet to 49 feet in length and were between 13 feet and 20 feet wide. They were built of 3-inch in diameter stakes and braced by a ring of stones. Longer poles were set around the perimeter as supports. The huts had hearths and pebble-lined pits and were defined by stake holes.

See Homonids and Early Man and Neanderthal and Modern Man. Also See Oldest Towns and Village

Websites and Resources on Prehistory: Wikipedia article on Prehistory Wikipedia ; Early Humans elibrary.sd71.bc.ca/subject_resources ; Prehistoric Art witcombe.sbc.edu/ARTHprehistoric ; Evolution of Modern Humans anthro.palomar.edu ; Iceman Photscan iceman.eurac.edu/ ; Otzi Official Site iceman.it Websites and Resources of Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals: Britannica britannica.com/; Wikipedia article History of Agriculture Wikipedia ; History of Food and Agriculture museum.agropolis; Wikipedia article Animal Domestication Wikipedia ; Cattle Domestication geochembio.com; Food Timeline, History of Food foodtimeline.org ; Food and History teacheroz.com/food ;

Archaeology News and Resources: Anthropology.net anthropology.net : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; archaeologica.org archaeologica.org is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe archeurope.com features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine archaeology.org has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine archaeology.co.uk is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily heritagedaily.com is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience livescience.com/ : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons: online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel archaeologychannel.org explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites besthistorysites.net is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities essential-humanities.net: provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

World’s Oldest Door?

In 2010 AP reported, “Archaeologists in the Swiss city of Zurich have unearthed a 5,000-year-old door that may be one of the oldest ever found in Europe. The ancient poplar wood door is "solid and elegant" with well-preserved hinges and a "remarkable" design for holding the boards together, chief archaeologist Niels Bleicher. Using tree rings to determine its age, Bleicher believes the door could have been made in the year 3,063 B.C. — around the time that construction on Britain's world famous Stonehenge monument began. [Source: AP, October 20, 2010]

"The door is very remarkable because of the way the planks were held together," Bleicher told The Associated Press. Harsh climatic conditions at the time meant people had to build solid wood houses that would keep out much of the cold wind blowing across Lake Zurich, and the door would have helped, he said. "It's a clever design that even looks good."

world's oldest door

The door was part of a settlement of so-called "stilt houses" frequently found near lakes about a thousand years after agriculture and animal husbandry were first introduced to the pre-Alpine region. It is similar to another door found in nearby Pfaeffikon, while a third — found in the 19th century and made from one solid piece of wood — is believed to be even older, possibly dating back to 3,700 B.C., said Bleicher.

The latest find was discovered at the dig for a new underground car park for Zurich's opera house. Archaeologists have found traces of at least five Neolithic villages believed to have existed at the site between 3,700 and 2,500 years B.C., including objects such as a flint dagger from what is now Italy and an elaborate hunting bow.

Helmut Schlichtherle, an archaeologist for the conservation department in the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, said finding an intact door was very rare, as usually only the foundations of stilt houses are preserved because they are submerged in water for millennia. Without air, the bacteria and fungi that usually destroy wood in a matter of years can't grow, meaning many lakes and moorlands in Europe are considered archaeological treasure troves.

"Some might say it's only a door, but this is really a great find because it helps us better understand how people built their houses, and what technology they had," he said. Schlichtherle, who wasn't part of the Zurich dig, said over 200 stilt houses have been discovered in southern Germany alone, but to date no doors.

Community Buildings in Early Villages

Trevor Watkins of the University of Edinburgh wrote: “At a number of Early Neolithic settlements we know of special purpose buildings, or community buildings; we may think of these buildings as scenarios for communal activities of some sort, and important for the community’s sense of identity. Çayönü, in southeast Turkey, had a succe sion of communal buildings at the centre of the site. Each was rectangular and each was different from the others. Although the houses were based on stone and mud foundations at ground level, the communal buildings seem to have preserved an ancient tradition of being at least partly cut into the ground. The most elaborate of the buildings, the socalled skull building, was repeatedly remodelled and rebuilt, but throughout its long life it had a series of stone-built cells below the floor level which were found to contain large quantities of human bone, and, in one of the cells, a careful arrangement of skulls at one side of the cell and long bones on the opposite side. [Source: Trevor Watkins, University of Edinburgh,“Household, Community and Social Landscape: Maintaining Social Memory in the Early Neolithic of Southwest Asia”, proceedings of the International Workshop, Socio-Environmental Dynamics over the Last 12,000 Years: The Creation of Landscapes II (14th –18th March 2011)” in Kiel January 2012 /+]

Skara Brae dwelling in the Orkney Islands, Britain

“Among the small buildings, at the centre of the early aceramic Neolithic settlement of Jerf el Ahmar, there was a succession of much larger, circular, subterranean structures, which the excavator, on the basis of her analysis of their features, fittings and lifehistory, has called “bâtiments communautaires”. The earliest of these is yet to be described and fully illustrated its successor is already well-documented. It was constructed in the cylinder were lined with two stone walls, the inner of which had vertical wooden posts set within it to support a flat roof. The walls projected above the then ground level. There was no staircase, so it must be supposed that entry was gained by means of a ladder from a doorway in the roof. Within the cavity there were seven cells arranged around about two thirds of the perimeter. Around the rest of the perimeter the floor was constructed as a low platform, separated into two segments; the floor of the central area was at a slightly lower level. None of the cells had interconnecting doorways; one cell, at the centre of the range of cells, had a small hole opening into the central area of the floor. The roof of this complex structure was deliberately dismantled and the structure itself was obliterated at the end of its use-life. The posts were pulled out, the roof was collapsed and burnt, and the cavity that remained was filled in. But the first act in this dramatic closure of the building was to place a human head in a corner, and a decapitated body with limbs spread-eagled in the centre of the floor. /+\

“The village shifted sideways over time, and another communal building was constructed at the centre of the village; it was similar to its predecessors in proportions and overall shape, but quite different in design and therefore how it functioned. Danielle Stordeur describes the earlier buildings as “polyvalent”, arguing that the cells may have been communal food storage facilities, while the building as a whole served as the arena for some kind of ceremonies. The new building was also circular in outline, subterranean, and roofed, but internally it was theatre-in-the-round. Six tree-trunk posts (fir trees from somewhere in the hills of southeastern Turkey, well to the north of Jerf el Ahmar) were set in a ring, and between each pair of posts a stone kerb was set to front a raised area all around the building. The kerb-stones were carved with pendant chevrons in raised relief; and each post had a deep collar made of plaster. Like its predecessors, this communal building was deliberately dismantled and obliterated at the end of its life.” /+\

First Buildings: Community Centers Not Houses?

Michael Balter wrote in Science: “Nearly 12,000 years ago, the world’s first villages began to spring up in the Near East. Until recently, archaeologists assumed that the stone and mud-brick buildings that made up these small settlements were the houses of the first farmers, who had begun to give up the hunting and gathering lifestyle. But the discovery of a large, amphitheater-like building at a site in southern Jordan, reported today, adds to growing evidence that the earliest permanent buildings might not have been homes, but community centers. The find, researchers say, suggests that during the advent of agriculture—a pivotal turning point that prehistorians call the Neolithic Revolution—early farmers may have come together first to engage in communal activities, and only later did they begin living together. “This is definitely one of the most exciting discoveries in recent years associated with the [Neolithic] in the Near East,” says Nigel Goring-Morris, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. [Source: Michael Balter, Science, May 2, 2011 ~]

“Archaeologists have little doubt that the larger villages that crop up after about 10,000 years ago across the Near East—an area that includes modern-day Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and neighboring countries—were residential communities made up of individual family houses. At 9500-year-old Çatalhöyük in Turkey, for example, thousands of people lived in a tight, honeycomb-like cluster of mud-brick homes that they entered through holes in the roof, and hundreds of similar sites have been excavated across the region.~

“But the earliest Neolithic villages, which date to about 11,700 years ago, are much smaller, and include a variety of buildings of different sizes and shapes. At an 11,500 year old site called Jerf el Ahmar in Syria, for example, the entire community apparently used a number of structures, including storehouses and a circular building with a long bench. And at 11,000-year-old Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey, researchers have argued that fantastic monolithic stone structures were part of a community ritual center. ~

“In a paper published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team led by Bill Finlayson, director of the Council for British Research in the Levant in London and archaeologist Steven Mithen, an archaeologist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom, reports the discovery of a large, oval-shaped building at a site in southern Jordan called Wadi Faynan 16 (WF16). Early farmers lived here between between 11,600 and 10,200 years ago, cultivating wild plants such as wild barley, pistachio, and fig trees, and hunting or herding wild goats, cattle, and gazelle. ~

“The structure, designated building 075 was made of mud-brick, with a floor of mud plaster, and measures a whopping (by Neolithic standards) 22 by 19 meters. Its central area is surrounded by a long bench about a meter deep and half a meter high. In parts of the building, there is a second bench above the first one that forms an additional tier of seating. And along the southern side of the building, the lower bench is decorated with a wave pattern incised into the mud-brick. ~

re-creation of an Iron Age community house

“Thus the structure echoes the architecture of the Jerf el Ahmar community building--but building 075 is about three times larger. The building’s central area also contains a series of stone mortars set into plaster platforms on the floor, which may have been used to grind wild plants. The structure includes a number of post-holes, which the team thinks might have held up a roof that covered at least part of the building. The team also found two other, smaller structures nearby, which it interprets as storehouses for cereals and other food resources.

“The three structures, the team reports, lie within a cluster of other buildings in a 1-hectare site. But none of these other buildings appear to be domestic houses either: Rather, they seem to have served as storehouses or workshops; one building contained green stone beads and seems to have specialized in their manufacture. Finlayson, Mithen, and their colleagues conclude that the evidence from WF16, combined with evidence from other sites, suggests that the earliest villages were not made up of houses, but rather communal structures where people came together to process their wild harvests and possibly also to engage in community performances. “These settlements appear to be all about community and not about emerging households,” the team writes, adding that this “ritualized community activity” might have helped to bring together the work force necessary to harvest the wild crops. ~

“The authors don't speculate on where the farmers lived, and there is no way to be sure. Researchers working at similar sites have surmised that they lived in small camps near the central site, but such open air habitations are very difficult to find and often leave little or no archaeological traces. Archaeologist Trevor Watkins, emeritus at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, says he “agrees strongly” with the authors’ conclusion that the social changes that took place during the transition from hunting and gathering to farming were at least as important as the later economic changes that led to full-blown domestication of plants and animals. But he thinks that it’s still possible that some of the other buildings at WF16 were used as domestic dwellings. Nevertheless, Watkins says, the communal activities at WF16 and other Neolithic sites probably created “powerful bonds of collective identity” in the earliest farmers that kept them together in stable societies “over many generations.” ~

First Cloth


The oldest known cloth is a 3-by-1½-inch, 9000-year-old piece of linen found in southeastern Turkey at an archaeological site known as Cayonu, near the headwaters of the Tigris River. Linen is made from flax The cloth was partly fossilized. It was found wrapped around an antler, which preserved and fossilized the cloth with calcium. If the antler hadn't been present the cloth would have deteriorated within a century. [Source: John Noble Wilford, Science Section, New York Times 7/13/92]

The people that produced the cloth were also some of the world's first people to raise wheat and settle into houses and villages. The linen was made by twisting the flax fibers into twine-like thread. The weaving technique used to create the cloth was believed to have been adapted from basket-weaving technology, which had been around for about a 1000 years. Weaving cloth, archaeologists have said, was one of the most important innovations in the development of human civilization. Cloth making appeared to have arisen about a 1000 years after copper was first hammered and 10,000 years after pottery was first fired. Before cloth was invented ancient people wore animal skins. The advantage of cloth was that it could be fashioned into lighter, cooler garments.

In 1988 linen believed to be 8,500 years old was discovered at Hahal Hemar Cave in Israel. Also discovered in the cave---which archeologists speculated was used for ceremonial purposes---was a skull decorated with asphalt. Flax has been found in the remains of dwellings of Swiss lake dwellers, These ancient people used the flax for cloth and cord and fiber for fishing and trapping. Textile markings dated to 5000 B.C. have been found at French site. [National Geographic Geographica, January 1988].

First Textiles and Clothing

Mark Stoneking of the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig calculated that our human ancestors began wearing clothes about 114,000 years ago based on comparing the DNA of head lice, which have been around millions of years, and body lice (which are misnamed as they appear on clothing rather than the body), which are a relatively new species. His reasoning goes that a new species evolves when there is a new environment (in this case clothing for the body lice) and if he could figure when body lice branched off from head lice (which he did using by comparing the DNA of the two species) he could figure out when early man first wore clothes.

Very old linen, from Fayum, Egypt

The earliest known evidence of ceramics and textiles have been found at the 24,000-year-old Doiní Vestonice and Pavlov hill sites in the Czech Republic that were the home of prehistoric seasonal camps. Evidence of these things are impressions left on clay chips recovered from clay floor that was hardened by a fire. The meshlike impressions of textiles indicate that these people may have made wall hangings, cloth, bags, blankets, mats, rugs and other similar items.

The 26,000-year-old Venus sculptures found in Willendorf, Austria and Brassempouty have what look like knotted hair. Anthropologist Olga Soffer of the University of Urbana-Champaign has suggested the hair on statues may in fact be replicas of hats.

Other evidence that textiles was invented between 20,000 and 30,000 years ago include bone needles and other sewing tools and impressions of interlaced fibers on clay shards found at Upper Paleolithic sites. Braided fibers found in a pit in Lascaux, France hints not only of thread but also rope, cord, fishing lines, and perhaps woven garments and baskets.

The discovery of bone needles indicates that ancient men probably sewed together hide and fur garments. This helped them expand into colder climates. Sewing and needles also allowed the creation of water-resistant clothing and the ornamentation of clothes with beads, animal teeth, and shells.

The first needles appeared about 20,000 years ago and the earliest garments were probably form-fitting animal-skin tunics, leggings and boots stitched together with linen thread. A teenage boy and girl found at a 20,000-year-old site called Sungir near Vladimir and Moscow, Russia were buried with clothing with 3,000 ivory beads attached to it. The arrangements of the beads indicates that the boy wore long pants, a cape, short cloak, and knee-high boots. A hat and belt were decorated with Arctic fox and cave lion teeth.

Oldest Cotton Textile and Oldest Indigo-Dyed Textile: 6,200 Years Old, from Peru

A George Washington University researcher identified a 6,200-year-old indigo-blue fabric from Huaca, Peru, making it one of the oldest-known cotton textiles in the world and the oldest known textile decorated with indigo blue. George Washington University reported: “The discovery marks the earliest use of indigo as a dye, a technically challenging color to produce. According to Jeffrey Splitstoser, lead author of a paper on the discovery and assistant research professor of anthropology at the George Washington University, the finding speaks to the sophisticated textile technology ancient Andean people developed 6,200 years ago. [Source: George Washington University, September 14, 2016]

"Some of the world's most significant technological achievements were developed first in the New World," said Dr. Splitstoser. "Many people, however, remain mostly unaware of the important technological contributions made by Native Americans, perhaps because so many of these technologies were replaced by European systems during the conquest. However, the fine fibers and sophisticated dyeing, spinning and weaving practices developed by ancient South Americans were quickly co-opted by Europeans."

20120207-Otzi Museum belt.jpg
Otzi belt
“The textile was discovered during a 2009 excavation at Huaca Prieta, a desert area that offers nearly pristine archaeological preservation on the north coast of Peru. Experts believe the site was likely a temple where a variety of textiles and other offerings were placed, possibly as part of a ritual. The well-preserved artifacts give a glimpse into ancient civilization and lifestyle and offer an unexpected connection to the 21st century.

“The development of indigo dye was critical for future trends in fashion, fabrics and textile arts, Splitstoser said. "The cotton used in Huaca Prieta fabrics, Gossypium barbadense, is the same species grown today known as Egyptian cotton," Dr. Splitstoser said. "And that's not the only cotton connection we made in this excavation — we may well not have had blue jeans if it weren't for the ancient South Americans." The textile is now in the Cao Museum collection in Peru. The paper, "Early Pre-Hispanic Use of Indigo Blue in Peru," published in Science Advances on September 14, 2016]

Some of the oldest cotton bolls were discovered in a cave in Tehuacán Valley, Mexico, and were dated to approximately 5500 B.C., but some doubt has been cast on these estimates. [Source: Wikipedia]

Green Stone Jewelry and Dogtooth Handbags

The development of agriculture 11,000 years ago in the Middle East coincided with an increase in green stone decorations according to a comprehensive study of stone beads unearthed at eight dig sites in Israel. Stéphan Reebs wrote for Livescience: “The sites are between 8,200 and 13,000 years old. Of the 221 beads found there, report Daniella E. Bar-Yosef Mayer of the University of Haifa and Naomi Porat of the Geological Survey of Israel in Jerusalem, 89 beads , or 40 percent, are made of green stone, including malachite, turquoise, and fluorapatite. [Source: Stéphan Reebs, Livescience, October 10, 2008 ==]

“The collections mark the first substantial appearance of stone beads, green ones in particular, anywhere in the archaeological record. In the hunter-gatherer societies that preceded the dawn of agriculture, beads — typically of antler, bone, tooth, ivory, or shell — were white, yellow, brown, red, or black, with only a few examples of green soapstone. ==

“The minerals used to fashion the green beads discovered in Israel came from as far away as northern Syria and Saudi Arabia. Thus, people must have gone to great lengths to obtain stones of the latest color. Bar-Yosef Mayer and Porat propose that with the advent of agriculture, the color of young leaves came to symbolize fertility and good health. Green beads, they say, were probably used as fertility charms and amulets against the evil eye, just as they are today in many parts of the Middle East. The study was detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences” ==

Andrew Curry wrote in Archaeology: “German researchers have uncovered what may be the remains of the world's oldest handbag, according to Sachsen-Anhalt State Archaeology and Preservation Office archaeologist Susanne Friederich. Though the bag itself, probably made of leather or linen, rotted away long ago, the form of the bag's outer flap—made of more than 100 dog teeth, all sharp canines—was preserved. The remains were discovered in a surface coal mine not far from Leipzig, next to the body of a woman buried at the end of the Stone Age, between 4,200 and 4,500 years ago. Dog teeth are often found in graves from the period, usually as necklaces or hair ornaments. "But every woman would argue that a handbag should count as jewelry too," says Friederich. Further analysis may reveal more about the dozens of dogs whose teeth decorated the bag.” [Source: Andrew Curry, Archaeology, Volume 65 Number 3, May/June 2012]

World's Oldest Shoes

Shoes from Areni Cave

The oldest known leather shoe — a 5,500-year-old leather moccasin — was found in was found in a cave near the village of Areni, Armenia. The 24.5-centimeter-long, 7.6- to-10-centimeter-wide covered piece of footwear was made of an old piece of leather. It had laces and was sawed to fit around the wearer’s foot. Announced in June 2010, the discovery was made near the Armenian-Turkish-Iranian borders by a team from University College Cro in Vayotz Dzor province.

Thirty-five shoes between 8,000 and 5,000 years have been found in a cave along the Missouri River in Calloway County, Missouri since 1955. Made mostly from rattlesnake master, a tough, spiny-edged yucca-like plant, the shoes come in surprising variety of styles. There are slip ons and tie up varieties. Some are insulated with grass. Some have rounded toes and round-cupped heels. Some have double thick soles and slingback heels. Other are worn out. [Source: Nicholas Wade, New York Times, July 7, 1998]

Otzi’s Clothes and Shoes

Otzi — the 5300-year-old "Iceman" — carried a backpack and wore three layers of clothes: woven grass cape, believed to be a prehistoric raincoat, fur leggings, and goatskin undergarments, straw insulated leather shoes, a coat of leather and goat fur, and a brown-bear -fur hat. All of Otzi’s clothes came from animal hides which suggest woven fabrics were not common. Almost everything that is known about Neolithic clothing has been gleaned from Otzi.

Otzi’s shoes had fiber and bear-skin and deer-skin leather sections and were held together with a leather strap. The soles were made of bearskins tanned with bear brains and liver Still on his foot when was found was leather boot with an upper flap sewn onto a bottom sole, a sock-like net liner and laces made of grass rope. He placed insulating grass in the net liner and then put his foot into the liner.

In 2004, Petr Hlavlcek, a Czech professor of shoe technology at the Tomas Bata University in the Czech republic, made a pair of shoes like those worn by Otzi — with bearskin soles and grass insulation — and went hiking with them. Not only did he not develop any blisters he said the shoes were more comfortable and better for walking than modern hiking boots.

Hlavlcek walked the 12 mile distance to the glacier where Otzi was found. He said when he stepped into a stream he felt no discomfort. He told Discover magazine, “The shoes were full of water but after three seconds it was very warm” and had a “comfortable feeling. This is because this layer of hay if full of air holes and air is the best warm insulation.”

Ancient Dentistry

The first known dental work was done 9,000 years ago at Mehrgarh, a Neolithic villages in present-day Pakistan. Nine individuals from a sample of 300 buried in graves dating from 5500 to 7000 B.C. Had holes drilled in their molars. David Frayer, a professor of anthropology from the University of Kansas, wrote in Natural History, “This is certainly the first case of drilling a person’s teeth. But even more significant this practice lasted 1,500 years and was a tradition at this site. It wasn’t just a sporadic event.” The oldest recorded dentistry before the discovery was found in Denmark and dated to 3000 B.C.

The discovery was reported in an article in Nature by Roberto Macciarelli of the University of Pontiers in France. “Four teeth show signs of decay associated with the hole, indicating that the intervention in some cases could have been therapeutic or palliative,” he said. No evidence of a filling was found but it is possible that there could have been something that decayed away.

The drilling was done to molars in both the upper and lower jaws to adults. In four of the cases the teeth appeared to have been drilled where the teeth had rotted but in the other cases no tooth rot was present. The holes were between a half millimeter and 3.5 millimeters deep. They appear to not have been done for aesthetic reason because the holes way out of view. The drilling is believed to have been performed with a flint point spun with a bow. An experimental reconstruction of the probable method involved a small thin piece of flint attached to a bone. Judging from the angle of the holes they were not self made and because the people who had the dental work were performed on them were not buried in special graves it appears that dentistry was available to anyone and was not just the provenance of the rich. One of the individuals had three molars drilled. Another had one molar drilled twice.

Zach Zorich wrote in Archaeology: “Scientists have recently uncovered evidence of a couple of instances of ingenious dental work in the ancient world. A team led by Federico Bernardini of the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, used a variety of techniques including CT scans and mass spectrometry to show that a 6,500-year-old skull found at the site of Lonche in Slovenia contains a cracked tooth that had been filled with beeswax—the oldest dental filling yet discovered (below, on left). A similarly inventive technique was used on an Egyptian man whose mummified body dates to around 2,100 years ago. Andrew Wade of the University of Western Ontario led a group of researchers who found that the man had numerous cavities, the largest of which had been packed with linen.” [Source: Zach Zorich, Archaeology, December 19, 2012]

Neolithic Surgery

ancient Egyptian surgical tools

An excavation of a 6,900-year-old tomb at Butheirs-Boulancourt, about 65 kilometers south of Paris, revealed a man with an amputated forearm. To perform such an operation would require a high degree of skill and knowledge about the human body an infection.

According to the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research, the patient seemed to haven been anaesthetized, the conditions were aseptic, the cut was clean and the wound was treated. Scientists believe that very sharp flint tools were used to do the cutting, which included cutting through bone, and plants such as sage may have been used to clean the wounds and as an anaesthetic.

There is also evidence of Neolithic amputations being performed in Germany and the Czech Republic. It had been known for some time that Stone Age men performed trephinations, cutting holes in the skull, but these are the first evidence of amputations.

The elderly amputee lived during the Linearbandkeramik period, when European hunter-gatherers began settling down to agriculture stockbreeding and pottery. A schist axe, a flint pick and other iams of a young animal, thought to be a sign of high status was found in the amputee’s grave.

See Otzi

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Otzi Museum, oldest door from the BBC

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ancientfoods.wordpress.com ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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