Skeletons in the cemetery have brain surgery scars on their skulls

During excavations in the cemetery in Çatak district of Van, brain surgery scars were found on the skulls of 30 out of 400 skeletons. Excavation work continues.

Brain surgery scars were detected on the skulls of 30 of the 400 skeletons unearthed during excavations in the necropolis (cemetery) in Çatak district of Van.


Excavations continue in the necropolis area, which was identified during the surveys carried out 2 years ago in Kaniya Bekan locality of Uzuntekne Mahallesi İçimli hamlet, 34 kilometers away from the district, and is thought to be 3,200 years old.


With the permission of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and under the presidency of the Van Museum Directorate, academics are taking part in the excavations carried out under the scientific consultancy of Gulan Ayaz, Assistant Professor of the Department of Archaeology at Yüzüncü Yıl University (Van YYÜ). Academics excavating in the area called “Kaniya Bekan Necropolis” with the support of the General Directorate of Cultural Assets, Museums and Van Metropolitan Municipality identified 3 rooms and 4 knitted graves with walls built with stones.


In 30 of the 400 human skeletons found in these graves, traces of brain surgery (trepanation) were found. Ayaz said that they have been conducting surveys in the city center and Gevaş, Bahçesaray and Çatak districts since 2021. Noting that they opened 7 graves reflecting the burial traditions of the Iron Age, Ayaz said: “3 of the graves are in the form of a room with dromos and 4 of them are knitted graves. We found that there were many burials, food was left to the deceased in bowls or pots, and they were buried with ornaments. We also saw dog burials mixed with human skeletons in the graves. The fact that we came across small cattle skeletons at the grave entrances brings to mind the tradition of offering sacrifices. Our work in the area will continue.”


Van YYÜ Department of Archaeology Faculty Member Assoc. Prof. Hakan Yılmaz said that they have obtained important anthropological findings in the works that have been going on for 3 years. Stating that they found approximately 30 skulls that had been operated on during their research in 7 graves in the necropolis, Yılmaz gave the following information: “In ancient times, grooving, cutting, drilling and scraping methods were used in skull surgeries. We found that all 4 techniques were used in this necropolis, which is very important for us. There may have been a neurological disease or epidemic related to the brain in the region. Individuals were operated with 4 methods. 60 percent of those operated on recovered. This shows that the surgeries were very successful. We can say that Kaniya Bekan Necropolis is the only place in Turkey where so many skull surgeries were performed. The patients were given the necessary attention. We saw that the surgeries were generally performed on the right, left and nape of the skull.”


Stating that the bones extracted from the graves will be examined in detail in the laboratory environment, Yılmaz said, “Anthropological analyzes will be made. Their age and gender will be determined. Then we will conduct a study on the diseases that infected the bones. By examining the mouth and teeth, we will reveal how individuals were fed. We will conduct studies on the diseases they suffered during infancy and childhood. We aim to reach a lot of information.”

Ece Nagihan

Hi, I'm Ece. I am a writer for Expat Guide Turkey and I strive to create the best content for you. To contact me, you can send an e-mail to Happy reading!

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