No, that isn’t an accident. Some 1000 years ago, a Peruvian healer used a hand drill to make dozens of small holes in a patient’s skull.
Cranial surgery is tricky business, even under 21st-century conditions—with specialized surgical instruments and lots of pain medication…both during and afterward.
Healers in Peru practiced trepanation—a surgical procedure that involves removing a section of the cranial vault using a hand drill or a scraping tool—more than 1,000 years ago to treat a variety of ailments, from head injuries to heartsickness. And they did so without the benefit of the aforementioned medical advances.
Danielle Kurin, a UC Santa Barbara bioarchaeologist (and a specialist in forensic anthropology) explains:
“When you get a knock on the head that causes your brain to swell dangerously, or you have some kind of neurological, spiritual, or psychosomatic illness, drilling a hole in the head becomes a reasonable thing to do.”
Excavating burial caves in the south-central Andean province of Andahuaylas in Peru, Kurin and her research team unearthed the remains of 32 individuals that date back to the Late Intermediate Period (ca. 1000-1250 CE).
Among them, 45 separate trepanation procedures were in evidence. Kurin’s findings appear in the current issue of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
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