Bronze Age Trepanated Skull from Jericho, C. 2200-2000 BC

Although this skull shows four separate holes made by the ancient surgical process of trepanation, they had clearly begun to heal. This suggests that although highly dangerous, the procedure was by no means fatal. Also known as trephination, 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 (map), in January 1958.

The skull with the seashell ear: A female Neolithic skull and its prosthetic seashell ear dating to approx. 300BC, found in a megalithic chamber tomb in Roque dAille in the Var. 

The skull shows evidence the woman had survived trephination and gone on to live for many ears. The artificial ear also shows signs of wear and tear, possibly from the woman playing with it.

Photo by Gustaf Sobin, published in “Luminous Debris: Reflecting on Vestige in Provence and Languedoc” (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).


“This is what’ll happen,” she said, “and it’s true, perfectly true. When you go out of here, all the particles that make you up will loosen and float apart, just like your daemons did. If you’ve seen people dying, you know what that looks like. But your daemons aren’t just nothing now; they’re part of everything. All the atoms that were them, they’ve gone into the air and the wind and the trees and the earth and all the living things. They’ll never vanish. They’re just part of everything. And that’s exactly what’ll happen to you, I swear to you, I promise on my honor. You’ll drift apart, it’s true, but you’ll be out in the open, part of everything alive again.”    

Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials 

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Oldest Dentistry Found in 14,000-Year-Old Tooth

An infected tooth partially cleaned with flint tools represents the oldest known dentistry, says a new international study on a 14,000-year-old molar.

The find represents the oldest archaeological example of an operative manual intervention on a pathological condition, according to researchers led by Stefano Benazzi, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Bologna.

“It predates any undisputed evidence of dental and cranial surgery, currently represented by dental drillings and cranial trephinations dating back to the Mesolithic-Neolithic period, about 9,000-7,000 years ago, “ Benazzi said.

The patient was a young man, about 25 years old, living in northern Italy. Read more.

“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.” –Science Museum, London

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.
Scientists and anthropologists work together to recreate 2,300 year old trepanation techniques

Neurosurgeons are working with anthropologists and archeologists to recreate the surgical techniques of our ancestors. 

This follows the discovery of two ancient skulls showing clear evidence of recovery after trepanation some 2,300 to 2,500 years ago in the Altai Mountains. 

One man, aged 40 to 45, had evidently suffered a trauma. The academics surmise he was hit, suffering damage to his left temporal and parietal bones. As a result, he developed a haematoma, which would have led to him suffering headaches, nausea, vomiting, disturbances to his consciousness, and movement problems in his right leg and hand. 

The ancient doctor decided on a trepanation to remove the haematoma. Evidence of later bone growth seen in the skull suggests that the man not only survived the surgery but lived for years afterwards.  

The second male skull had no visible trace of trauma but instead it is suspected he had a congenital deformation of the skull, which the surgeon wanted to ameliorate. 

In both these cases, a relatively small hole was made in the skull in a place where safety was maximised, avoiding damage to the joints and the dura mater. 

In the first case,  the Scythian surgeon made a hole more than one centimetre behind the cranial suture, at an appropriate distance from the edge of the sagittal sinus. 

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Read more at The Siberian Times

The article has a 3rd picture of a skull with a trephined hole that the scientists attribute to a woman who didn’t survive the surgery.  To me it actually looks like the hole was made post-mortem because of the difference between the color of the skull and the edges of the hole.

I think  this skull was probably used to practice trepanation techniques because the location of the hole would have likely caused the patient to die.  Practice would have been vital to get this surgery correct.  In December of last year a UCSB bioarchaeologist published work that showed ancient Peruvian healers practiced trepanation on skulls on recently dead bodies. 

“The crude method of trephining [sic] with the sharpened edge of a stone practiced by peoples living in Peru some 500 or 600 years ago is revealed by the skulls at the National Museum”

William H. Egberts examining trepanned Peruvian skulls in the anthropology laboratory of Smithsonian National Museum, 1926. 

Library of Congress Prints & Photographs


A Modern Nod to the Past: This is Trephin Bridal

It is 8:30 A.M. on a grey Sunday in Somerville Massachusetts. A car is packed with a collection of Couture wedding gowns, hair tools, Kevin Murphy products and tons of makeup. For what is soon to take place in one of the most industrial parts of town, is the most full scale photo shoot Trephin has done to date. Nathan Prescott, one of Trephin’s revered coiffures arrives coffee in hand and ready to start this photo shoot at Hitched Studios. With months of planning and countless hours of prep, what Nathan and his hand picked team have envisioned and composed will be completed in just under 4 hours. One thing remained true, the team compiled a unique story for each look. Brian Rand and Moe Smith (owners of Trephin Salon) have strong feelings about Nathan as an artist in this respect. “Often I feel most hair stylists make a bride someone they’re not, or the person they were for prom. Nate really gets to know the true woman,” says Rand. “Nate continues to expose himself, learning new things and staying on top of trends which keep him Modern, innovative and really red carpet with a unique edge,” Smith adds.
Join us and gaze upon the lavish, yet simple and understated gowns from Sabella Couture of Boston. Take in the catwalk ready, yet adaptable styling of Nathan Prescott and his exquisite team.

Private J. Luman was wounded at the battle of Mine Run, Va. on Nov. 27, 1863, when he was shot in the head with a minie ball (muzzle-loading spin-stabilized rifle bullet). Private Luman was treated in the field hospital for several days before being transferred a hospital in Alexandria.  By Dec. 8, he was comatose, so a surgeon applied a trephine and removed the splinters of bones from his skull, but Luman’s condition worsened and he died five days later. 

According to the National Museum of Health and Medicine, trephination involved drilling a circular hole into the skull to relieve pressure from bleeding or to remove fragments of bone pressing on the brain. 

Before the trephination procedure started, the tissue surrounding the site to be operated on was pulled back and the trephine placed on the skull. Then the surgeon turned the trephine in a circular motion to slowly cut through the bone - careful not to cut the tissue surrounding the brain. 

Other tools used during a trephination procedure were an elevator and a Heye’s saw.  The elevator was used to raise sections of fractured bone away from the brain and the Heye’s saw was used to remove any skull fragments that were sticking out.

This grisly procedure was fatal in over half of the 220 operations performed by Union surgeons.

The picture and above info comes from “Trauma and Surgery” on the NMHM website.