Currently reading : Trephination


8 October 2013

Author : julia-silverman

Trephination, or the practice of drilling holes into one’s skull, is a neurological procedure that has been employed all over the globe since the Neolithic period. Due its importance in treating a range of intra-cranial maladies, different cultures developed a range of highly effective tools and methods for drilling into the skulls of living patients.



Inca people in Pre-Columbian Peru, for example, used metal scalpels and obsidian blades to treat a range of problems, from the physical to the mental to the spiritual; there is evidence that the practice was employed both by highly trained “surgeons” and somewhat less precise “shamans.” Some studies claim that the practice was entirely religious and that retrieved circles of bone were worn as amulets. Despite the invasive nature of the surgery, many skulls from this period show signs of repair, implying that patients survived after surgery, and some skulls even display signs of multiple procedures.



Europe serves as home to many of the oldest trepanned skulls, many dating over 6000 years old. The process, however, endured well through the Middle Ages and into the Early Modern period. As late as the 17th Century, scientists continued to illustrate volumes depicting the process and tools with which the brain surgery was performed. The image below, for example, is from accomplished surgeon Johannes Scultetus’s 1655 volume Armamentarium chirurgicum.


Related articles