Cranial trepanation

skull head bust with LED light

One of the oldest medical procedures known to man is cranial trepanations. This involves making a hole in the patients’ skull using stone tools that reach the surface of the brain and has been used in the past to treat various illnesses (Faria, 2013). Skulls from as early as 6500BC with evidence of trepanation have been discovered, and it was believed to improve head injuries or decrease the pain levels of a patient, but more interestingly, it was used as a way to cure mental disorders.

In the prescientific period, psychological disorders were not understood. Back then, it was a popular belief that anyone showing illness or disturbance in any way was a traitor of God or someone who performed many sins. They developed the idea that any actions out of human control had to be of a supernatural cause. Mental illnesses were thought to have causes such as curses, being possessed by the devil, and being unfaithful to God (Farreras, 2022). Although this varied between cultures, the overall idea was the same. For example, in ancient Egypt, the sick were taken to temples to rid them of the evil spirits, and exorcisms were common in countries such as Greece and China (Foerschner, 2010).

Another form of healing was the act of a cranial trepanation, as it was believed that this would allow for the evil spirits to escape from the individual and therefore, their mental illness would disappear. This is believed to have been done for around 5,000 years, and there are even some skulls that suggest the survival and healing of some patients (Foerschner, 2010). Although there have been skulls discovered showing evidence for both genders and many age groups, the procedure seemed to be most common among adult males. The bone that was cut out during the procedure was also sometimes worn around the neck of some individuals, as they believed that this would be successful in keeping evil spirits away ("Trepanning - Wikipedia", 2022).

As science as developed greatly since this period, trepanation is still used today, but with actual cause and effect. It is now a common procedure to treat things like epidural and subdural hematomas.

Faria, M. (2013). Violence, mental illness, and the brain - A brief history of psychosurgery: Part 1 - From trephination to lobotomy. Surgical Neurology International4(1), 49.

Farreras, I. (2022). History of Mental Illness. Noba. Retrieved 13 January 2022, from

Foerschner, A. (2010). The History of Mental Illness: From "Skull Drills" to "Happy Pills". Inquiries Journal. Retrieved 13 January 2022, from

Trepanning - Wikipedia. (2022). Retrieved 13 January 2022, from

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