Trepanation in the Flesh

Trepanned skullThe blog Neurophilosophy has an article on the history of trepanation, the surgical procedure in which a hole is cut in the skull of a person for any of a variety of medical and spiritual reasons. The operation has been used in a variety of cultures throughout history. The article covers a wide range — from ancient Greece to the modern International Trepanation Advocacy Group. A great deal of emphasis placed on the story of Ephraim George Squier, who discovered a trepanned native Peruvian skull in the 1860s and brought it to the attention first of the New York Academy of Medicine, and later of the prominent French physician Paul Broca. Broca, who founded the Anthropological Society in 1859, went on to develop an elaborate theory of the people who did the surgery. The article includes a number of fascinating historical illustrations. More fascinating still is a video clip from the 1998 film A Hole in the Head, in which a Kisi (Tanzanian) medicine man trepans a woman from the tribe in front of the camera.

And you thought hearts were the important organ on Valentine’s Day!

Tip o’ the hat to Mindhacks for alerting me to this material.

About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.