Trephined Skulls of Peru

1524 N Lake Shore Dr Chicago

International Museum of Surgical Science
Written By International Museum of Surgical Science

The International Museum of Surgical Science, a division of the International College of Surgeons (ICS), maintains over 10,000 square feet of public galleries committed to the history of surgery, and an exquisite permanent collection of art and artifacts from the history of medicine.

On the second floor at the end of the hall sits a case of skulls--and they all have holes in them. These holes are the result of a procedure called “trephination,” which is the earliest surgery we have a record of. These skulls date from 2000 BCE in ancient Peru. This procedure may have been performed in cases of head injury, the same way a craniotomy might be performed today to relieve pressure on the brain. However, this procedure was likely also performed in cases of mental illness. Ancient Peruvians believed that psychological disorders were caused by bad spirits trapped inside the body, and the only way to let them out was to chisel a hole in the skull. Here’s a painting from the Museum's Hall of Murals that depicts a trephination surgery.

Do you see the metal instruments on the second shelf? Those would have been used to perform the trephinations. In the 1950's, a Peruvian surgeon named Dr. Francisco Grana decided to do a modern-day trephination surgery using ancient tools just like this. There’s a video playing of this surgery on the bottom shelf. Be careful: it is not for the squeamish!

International Museum of Surgical Science Highlights

Trephined Skulls of Peru

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