Trepanations in the ancient Greek colony of Akanthos. Skull surgery in the light of Hippocratic medicine

Members of the BioMuse research group conducted a study that was published on the esteemed International Journal of Paleopathology. The paper presents seven new trepanations on four skulls (5th – 1st cent. BCE) from the ancient city of Akanthos and juxtaposes the paleopathological observations with the Hippocratic treatises. In addition, the meta-analysis of trepanations that have been published so far in Greece examines the geographical and temporal distribution, the causes, the techniques, the demographic characteristics as well as the survival rate.

The study showed that in two of the four cases of Akanthos, which exhibited significant signs of healing, trepanation was practiced for treating cranial injuries. In the other two cases, individuals survived shortly after the operation. Three trepanations were performed with a trephine, while one was conducted with the method of scraping. The trepanations of Akanthos, featuring similarities and discrepancies from the Hippocratic recommendations, indicate the mental and technical readiness of the ancient surgeon.

Trepanation was performed systematically in Greece already since 2,000 BCE. It was conducted predominantly in males, principally as a surgical treatment of cranial injuries. The estimated survival rate was 63%, while scraping was the most frequent and successful technique. The Hippocratic texts, which are the first written evidence of the operation, reflect the long medical tradition and encode the pre-existing knowledge.


The genomic history of the Aegean Palatial Civilizations

Members of the BioMuse group coordinated the scientific study that was published on the esteemed scientific journal CELL.

The paper, using population genomic methods, examines the demographic history of the emblematic civilizations of the Bronze Age in the Aegean, i.e. the Cycladic, the Minoan and the Helladic (Mycenaean).

The analysis of ancient genomes showed that the Aegean populations were genetically homogeneous despite their cultural distinction (Cycladic, Minoan, Helladic), particularly during the Early Bronze Age (5,300-4,000 years ago), and had genetic continuity with the earlier Neolithic populations. However, they were also influenced by a relatively small-scale migration from the East of the Aegean, which coincides with cultural innovations that appeared during the same period in the Aegean and verify previous archaeological theories.

The same study indicates that the populations of the Middle Bronze Age (4,600-4,000 years ago) differ from their ancestors, in showing ~ 50% genetic similarity with populations from regions north and east of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Migration from the Eurasian steppes into Central Europe expands geographically, influencing the Aegean populations. The mobility that took place during the Middle Bronze Age contributed to the formation of modern Greeks’ genome. Present-day Greeks share 90% of their ancestry with the populations that lived in Northern Greece 4,000 years ago.