Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Evidence of Prehistoric Brain Surgery in Jackson County


Sneads - The Mississippians were the ancestors of most of the Native American nations we recognize today. The Muscogee (Creek), Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw and Seminole people can all trace their history to the Mississippian culture. Some older groups such as the Yuchi and Hitchiti are believed to have descended from earlier people already living in the region when the Mississippians arrived.

From A.D. 900 until A.D. 1540, the Mississippians were the absolute masters of the Southeast. In Jackson County, the largest known early Mississippian settlement was the Curlee Site near Sneads. This site was occupied by around A.D. 1000 and consisted of a large village and mound on the banks of the Apalachicola River near where the U.S. 90 Bridge crosses between Chattahoochee and Sneads. Paired with a large seven mound ceremonial center across the river at Chattahoochee Landing, where the remains of a large platform mound can still be seen, the Curlee village was an important center supported by vast fields and a trading network that made use of the Chattahoochee, Flint and Apalachicola Rivers.
Although the mound has now been washed away by the river, the Curlee Site is one of the best researched Native American sites in Jackson County. Prior to the destruction of the site by erosion, archaeologists conducted numerous seasons of fieldwork at the site and learned a great deal about the lives of its inhabitants. They ground grain and baked bread, grew squash, melons and other crops, made both ceremonial and utility pottery, used tiny triangular points to tip their arrows and made tools from stone, wood and bone. They even made bone fishhooks for use in harvesting food from the Apalachicola River.
One of the most stunning aspects of the Curlee inhabitants, however, is that they seem to have developed the capability to perform brain surgery. A skull from the site and now in the possession of a private collector in Chattahoochee had a rectangular hole that had apparently been cut using stone tools. Most surprising, however, is the fact that the bone surrounding the hole had begun to refuse or grow back, confirming to anthropologists that the unfortunate individual had survived his primitive surgery.
Although scientists have speculated as to why inhabitants of Curlee would conduct brain surgery on a resident of their village, the best they can do is guess. Some have suggested that the individual may have suffered from migraine headaches or somehow been injured, but we may never know for sure.
At some point around 1250-1350 A.D., Curlee and other Mississippian sites along the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers in Jackson County were suddenly abandoned. No one is quite sure why, although it possibly had to do with the arrival of a new, militaristic group in western Jackson County – the Chacato.
Note: This article is excerpted from Volume One of my new book, The History of Jackson County, Florida. The book is available locally at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna and can also be purchased at http://www.amazon.com/.

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