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I'm doing a report on trepanning for school. Can anyone tell me more about it?
So I've done some research and I know that thousands of years ago people performed this skull surgery called "trepanning." Apparently people cut holes in other people's skulls to let the voices out or something. I've read people even used to survive the surgery sometimes. But I don't know much about why the surgery was done or how it was done--does anyone out there know?

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Asked by Linda Friday May 2nd 2008 in Career Planning
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What a fascinating topic! Trepanning is one of the most ancient forms of surgery we know about. Archaeologists have been finding skulls with distinctive trepanned holes in them that date from as early as 10,000 BC. Trepanned skulls have been found in Greece, Egypt, the Middle East, South America, Europe, China, Africa, India, and many other regions of the world. It seems gruesome today, but thousands of years ago it was a widespread practice.

It was also safer than we'd think. Depending on the region and time period, approximately 50%-80% of people who underwent trepanning survived. Among the Incas between A.D. 1400 to 1532, the survival rate was 80-90%. We know patients survived because we've found many skulls with holes that have rounded, dulled edges--the bone grew back slowly over time. If a skull has a hole with sharp edges, the patient probably died during surgery--or very shortly afterward.

Scientists used to believe that this surgery was performed to let "evil spirits" out, or for other superstitious reasons. But evidence today suggests that there were also legitimate medical reasons for the practice. For example, scientists have noticed that most trepanned skulls belong to males. Among the Incas, scientists have noticed that most of the trepanned holes are found on skulls with fractures--either healed or fresh--on the front left region of the skull. This is just where a warrior might be hit by a right-handed opponent during battle. The holes may have been made to relieve swelling in the brain caused by head wounds incurred during fighting.

In ancient times, this procedure was done without anesthetic. Even thousands of years ago, surgeons knew not to puncture the membrane around the brain, cut internal blood vessels, or damage cranial muscles. It was once thought that most of the people who underwent trepanning died of infection, but in fact infection is rare in many regions that practice it.

Surprisingly, trepanning of one kind or another is still practiced today. Some isolated tribes in different regions of the world still perform it the traditional way, without anesthetic--the patient is awake the entire time.

Even modern surgeons must sometimes cut into the skull in order to relieve internal cranial bleeding, remove tumors, and treat other brain injuries. While this procedure removes a section of bone--just like trepanation--it's called a "craniotomy" in modern medical language, and in most cases the piece of bone is replaced as soon as possible. For some modern brain surgeries, the patient must stay awake--although with local anesthetic.

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