Trepanation among Ancient Peruvian Cultures in South America
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Trepanation (or trephination) is “a procedure that involves the removal of a piece of calvarium without damage to the underlying blood vessels, meninges, or brain” (Kim 2004:18). This is a practice that has been seen in prehistory throughout most of the world (Kim 2004:20-21) and was found to be most prevalent among the Pre-conquest peoples of South America, with specific cases and research suggesting that at least 50 percent of people who underwent a trepanation procedure survived at least for some time afterwards. (Capasso and Di Tota 1996:316). This paper will address trepanation in terms of where and when it was common in South American Peruvian cultures, why it was done, the various types of trepanation procedures and the types of tools used, and specific cases involving both successful and unsuccessful procedures.
Trepanation is evident in prehistoric cultures throughout the world including Europe, Asia, Africa, North, Central, and South America, as well as Oceania. The two most notable locations where archaeologists have found the most specimens indicating trepanation are in France and Peru (Kim 2004:20-21). In France there is a rock-shelter called Entre-Roches that dates to Paleolithic times. A parietal bone was discovered in the soil of this rock-shelter that concludes that trepanation was practiced in the Quaternary period (de Nadaillac 1892:263-64).
Peru has been noted as having the largest number of prehistoric trepanned skulls throughout the world and the practice was common for over two thousand years (Verano and Andrushko 2010:270). Dr. Mantegazza found three examples of trepanation from Peru; one notable one had cloth still bound around the skull with two trepanned holes beneath it. There was evidence of where t...
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...d by doing so, it also released the fluid build-up. There are five ways that trepanation was performed, four of which were seen in Peruvian cultures. Finally, Peru has possibly the most abundant amount of ancient specimens that have underwent trepanation, totaling to 17% of the population during the height of the Incan Empire. Within those who underwent trepanation, the survival rate was over 80% during the Early Inca and Late Horizon periods.
The evidence of trepanation among ancient populations is a wonderful way for archaeologists and scientists to see that these people had great intelligence and understanding of the human anatomy. The fact that there are examples throughout the world and that so many specimens show evidence of survival after the trepanation is useful to the understanding of past people, which is ultimately what archaeologists are trying to do.