Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Primitive cranial trephining

Primitive cranial trephining, the surgical opening of the skull performed with primitive tools and techniques, is one of the most fascinating surgical practices in human history. It probably started in the Neolithic at least 7000 years ago.

Although this skull shows four separate holes made by the ancient surgical process of trephination, they had clearly begun to heal. This suggests that although highly dangerous, the procedure was by no means fatal. Also known as trepanation, or trepanning, the process of making a hole through the skull to the surface of the brain might be carried out to treat a range of medical conditions or for more mystical reasons.

The skull was excavated from a tomb in Jericho, in January 1958 and presented to the Wellcome collection by Dame Kathleen Kenyon (1906-1978), the director of the archaeological dig.

The idea that all forms of illness may be the result of supernatural intervention reaches back to our earliest prehistory; trepanning for instance may have been used to allow demons to escape from the brain. In many shamanistic cultures, shaman and patient share a world-view in which the removal of evil spirits from the patient depends on the skill and experience of the shaman.

Image credit:
Bronze Age skull from Jericho, Palestine, 2200-2000 BCE, Science Museum A634844, London, Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0.

Read & Learn:
Corina Marinescu

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