Cranial Trepanations Survival

When studying this particular form of treatment from the Neolithic period (a time roughly 12,000 years ago which ended only 4,000 years ago), I was intrigued to read that this highly dangerous treatment was not fatal to patients. How do we know people survived their skull being drilled into? Many skull bones have been located which clearly show healed holes from the procedure, indicating that although it was risky and not medically logical, it did not always result in death. This is one of the oldest medical procedures known to historians, but why was it done? It was believed to treat various head injuries, pain and supposedly used to release spirits from inside of the body.

Luckily for us, modern medicine has developed far enough so we are able to take a paracetamol to treat headaches rather than severe skull trauma. Unfortunately, there is evidence from people who were not so lucky and whom lost their lives during this ancient procedure. One pregnant medieval women lost her life after being treated for possible preeclampsia with a circular hole to her skull measuring 0.2 inches in diameter (Journal World Neurosurgery, 2017). To this day, certain people still believe in trepanning, one man in the 70’s attempted to treat his depression using this method. Peter Halvorson believed he had corrected something that went wrong in nature and was since happier than before, giving him more energy, focus and drive, all of which are things which can be affected by depression (The Washington Post Company, 1998). Don't try this at home.

References: Powell, MP., (2017). The History of Neurosurgery at the National Hospital, Queen Square, London, with Some Personal Recollections from 1948 Onwards: The Early Years. World Neurosurgery 103: 634-646

Gomez, F.C., (1998). Washington Post v. Total News, Inc. Berkeley Technology Law Journal, pp.21-34.

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