Having a hole knocked into your skull with a piece of flint might sound like an extreme cure for a headache, but cave-dwelling migraine sufferers often looked no further than a quick bout of trepanning. This drastic form of early surgery (dating back over 7000 years) was also thought to be just the thing for epileptic seizures, and removed pieces of skull were worn around the neck as trophies. The hole in this Iron Age skull has a rounded rim, suggesting new bone growth after the operation – this patient survived their grinding ordeal. Trepanation didn’t always involve knocking or drilling – some patients had their skulls gouged or scraped away, all without anaesthetic and while they were fully conscious. The therapeutic effects of trepanning have never been proven, but its use in modern operating theatres allows surgeons to access brain injuries – and these days they even replace the missing piece afterwards.
Written by John Ankers
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