Research by Anagnostis Agelarakis, a specialist in archeology and anthropology at Adelphi University in New York, reveals that Byzantine surgeons in the 14th century were successful in treating complex fractures of the jaw.
The head of a warrior, beheaded by the Ottomans after taking a fortress, preserved evidence of the complex procedure. His jaw, broken in half in still unknown circumstances, was joined with an apparently gold wire to heal the wound, points out an article by LiveScience that refers to a publication of the scientific journal Mediterranean Archaeology and Archeometry.
The discovery of the 650-year-old remains demonstrates unprecedented precision with which “the medical professional was able to unite the two main fragments of the jaw,” Agelarakis said.
What’s more, the physician of the time seems to have followed the advice of the 5th century BC of the famous Greek Hippocrates, who wrote a treatise on jaw injuries some 1,800 years before the warrior was injured.
Agelarakis and his colleagues discovered the warrior’s skull and lower jaw during excavations at the Greek fortress of Polystylon in Western Thrace in 1991. In the mid-1380s that area was part of the Byzantine Empire, or as they called it the Byzantines themselves, the Eastern Roman Empire, which suffered several attacks from the Ottomans.
Since the warrior was beheaded, it is likely that he fought to the end against the invaders. Then a person secretly buried his head in the grave of a five-year-old boy who was already on the fortification territory, in the center of a small cemetery.
Near the burial of the head was also found a fragment of a ceramic pot, which may have been used to dig the hole, Agelarakis explained.
The study estimates that the warrior was executed at the age of 35 or 40, about ten years after being treated by the surgeon. Additionally, analysis of the man’s jaw revealed traces of thin wire that zigzagged around the base of the teeth to hold the remains together during healing.
This wire was later removed, but Agelarakis believes it was gold, because the silver alloy would leave a greyish layer, while copper or bronze would leave traces of patina or greenish spots.
All this indicates that the warrior undoubtedly had a high status, perhaps he even led the defense of this fortification, the investigation concludes.