Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of trepanation, a skull-drilling operation, in Çatalhöyük, Turkey. The excavation, led by Anadolu University’s Archeology Department, brought to light a unique burial site containing seven individuals, one of whom displayed clear signs of preparation.
Professor Handan Üstündağ, a member of the excavation’s anthropology team, revealed that the intriguing find was a young male aged 18-19. During the detailed examination of the skeletal remains, an approximately 2.5-centimeter diameter hole was discovered on the side of the skull. According to Üstündağ, the circular incision and numerous marks indicated a trepanation procedure for therapeutic purposes.
Üstündağ explained, “We found that it belonged to a man. There is no indication that the individual was alive after the operation in question. Because there was no sign of healing in the bone tissue. When this operation was performed, this person was either about to die or had already passed away.” This ancient trepanation, dating back 8,500 years, is considered one of the oldest examples in Anatolia.
The Çatalhöyük excavation, ongoing since 2020, has uncovered details about the mudbrick houses where around 8,000 people once lived. Ali Umut Turkcan, the head of the Çatalhöyük excavation committee, expressed the significance of the find, stating, “We saw a clear example of trepanation for the first time in Çatalhöyük.”
Trepanation, a medical practice from ancient times, was employed to treat various conditions such as headaches, brain hemorrhages, and mental disorders. Professor Üstündağ emphasized, “Our finding shows that people who lived 8,500 years ago tried to treat diseases, relieve the pain or suffering of their relatives, and prevent deaths. This finding is also remarkable in terms of medical history.”
The excavation head, Associate Professor Ali Umut Türkcan, highlighted the uniqueness of Çatalhöyük, a settlement that thrived for almost 2,000 years, witnessing the slow progression of culture before its abandonment. Türkcan mentioned that the current work focuses on the “northern Korugan,” an area adjacent to the exhibition space, where a new neighborhood with a large building was discovered.
The academic study on these findings involves collaboration between several researchers, including Professor Handan Üstündağ from Anadolu University, Professor Başak Boz from Trakya University, Professor Arzu Demirel from Mehmet Akif Ersoy University, and graduate student archaeologist Donald Kale. Türkcan assured the public that the results of this study would be shared soon.
Çatalhöyük, a 9,000-year-old prehistoric site near the modern city of Konya in central Turkey, was recognized by UNESCO in 2012 as a World Heritage Site, testifying to the evolution of social organization and cultural practices as humans adapted to sedentary life.