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. 2018 Apr 19;8(1):5536.
doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-23914-1.

Earliest Animal Cranial Surgery: From Cow to Man in the Neolithic

Free PMC article

Earliest Animal Cranial Surgery: From Cow to Man in the Neolithic

Fernando Ramirez Rozzi et al. Sci Rep. .
Free PMC article


The earliest cranial surgery (trepanation) has been attested since the Mesolithic period. The meaning of such a practice remains elusive but it is evident that, even in prehistoric times, humans from this period and from the Neolithic period had already achieved a high degree of mastery of surgical techniques practiced on bones. How such mastery was acquired in prehistoric societies remains an open question. The analysis of an almost complete cow cranium found in the Neolithic site of Champ-Durand (France) (3400-3000 BC) presenting a hole in the right frontal bone reveals that this cranium underwent cranial surgery using the same techniques as those used on human crania. 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.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no competing interests.


Figure 1
Figure 1
External and internal view of the cow cranium showing the hole on the right frontal bone. Bar corresponds to 10 cm.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Cranial surgery in cow (ac) compared with two human crania from the Neolithic period in France ((d) [28217bis], (e) [17144]). The cranial surgery in the cow cranium does not appear different to cranial surgery practiced on human crania. The use of a low magnification approach with either hand lenses or binoculars is more practical for identifying complete assemblages of cut-marks than a scanning electronic microscope. More of the cut-marks appear in groups crossing between them and are obliquely orientated to the border of the perforation (white arrows). Parallel long cut-marks produced by a single tool in a unique gesture can be seen in cow as in human crania (black arrows). Other cut-marks with similar orientation show a large space between them and are almost parallel to the border of perforation; these cut-marks are probably associated with cutting more than with grasping (chevrons). Bar corresponds to 1 cm.
Figure 3
Figure 3
The SEM image of the detail of trepanation in a human cranium ((f) [17144]) enables to distinguish characteristic long, straight, multiple parallel cut-marks (white arrows) from short, irregular and rounded orifices of vascular channels (yellow arrows) predominant in the lower part of the picture. In the cow cranium (g), cut marks (white arrows) appear with their typical aspect: straight, multiple parallel, v-shaped and with micro-striations along the groove, close to the border of the cranial surgery, whereas vascular channels are visible far from it (yellow arrows). Orientation, aspect, and packing of cut-marks reveal the same gestures in the crania analyzed, thus suggesting that the technique used on the cow cranium was the same as that used on human crania. Bar corresponds to 1 mm.

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