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Traces of ‘brain surgery’ are found on skeletons in necropolis area in eastern Türkiye

  • Excavations unearthed skeletons from around 3,200 years ago, with 30 skulls showing evidence of surgery, in Van’s Catak district necropolis
  • ‘In region, neurological disease or epidemic may have occurred. Surgery, conducted through four methods, resulted in a 60% recovery rate, showcasing success of  procedures,’ says expert

VAN, Türkiye

Excavation work revealed 400 skeletons, with traces of brain surgery detected on the skulls of 30, in the necropolis area in the Catak district of Van, eastern Türkiye.

Excavations continue in the necropolis area, estimated to be 3,200 years old. It was discovered during surface surveys two years ago in Kaniya Bekan at Uzuntekne Neighborhood, 34 kilometers from the district.

Under the leadership of the Van Museum Directorate and with the scientific guidance of Gulan Ayaz from Yuzuncu Yil University’s Archaeology Department, academic experts are involved in the excavations with the permission of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

With the support of the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage, Museums, and the Van Metropolitan Municipality, academics excavating the site named ‘Kaniya Bekan Necropolis’ identified three stone-walled rooms and four built graves.

Out of around 400 human skeletons in these tombs, 30 showed evidence of brain surgery (trepanation).

Ayaz told Anadolu that they have been conducting surface surveys in the city center and Gevas, Bahcesaray, and Catak districts since 2021.
Ayaz mentioned opening 7 tombs reflecting Iron Age burial traditions, including 3 dromos chambers and 4 built graves.

He added the team identified numerous burials where food and decorative items were left and observed dog burials mixed with human skeletons. Small animal skeletons at tomb entrances suggest a tradition of offering sacrifices. Their work in the area will continue.

‘We found anthropologically significant evidence’

Associate Professor Hakan Yilmaz from the Van Yuzuncu Yil University Archaeology Department told Anadolu that they have obtained anthropologically significant findings in the ongoing research for the past 3 years.

Yilmaz reported finding approximately 30 skulls with evidence of surgery in their research on the 7 tombs identified in the necropolis.

He said that in ancient times, various skull surgery methods, including grooving, cutting, drilling, and scraping, were identified in our research at this necropolis. All four techniques are highly significant, suggesting a past neurological disease or epidemic in the region.

Individuals underwent successful surgeries using these methods, with a 60% recovery rate.

Yilmaz said Kaniya Bekan Necropolis is “unique” in Türkiye for the prevalence of skull surgeries, indicating proper attention to patients, with procedures commonly performed on the right, left, and back of the skull.

Yilmaz stated, “The bones extracted from the tombs will undergo detailed laboratory examination. Anthropological analyses will determine age and gender, followed by studies on diseases affecting the bones. Examination of the mouth and teeth will reveal dietary habits, and research will explore diseases during infancy and childhood. The goal is to obtain a wealth of information.”