Why did surgeons do six thousand years ago trepanation

Russian archaeologists have discovered ancient in the North Caucasus burials in which people subjected to trepanation were buried skulls. According to scientists, these complex operations were made – and successfully – more than 6 thousand years ago, in the Eneolithic and bronze, when not only steel scalpels did not exist, but, it is believed that the concept of medicine was completely different than Today. Who and why carried out such complex surgical interventions?

With a hole in my head

Skulls of four people with characteristic openings found archaeologists of the expedition GUP “Heritage” of the Stavropol Territory in four burial grounds in the framework of the joint Russian-German project on the study of the peoples of the Caucasus of the Bronze Age. Alas, genuine names these peoples are unknown. They didn’t have a written language, but neighbors almost no memory of them. It is only known that the basis their households were farming and animal husbandry, as well as hunting and gathering. The well-being of the population, and often its survival depended on the vagaries of climate. And here on the skulls typical representatives of this culture find traces of a complex operation. The fact itself is amazing.

Photo of a skull cap with traces of trepanation from a Caucasian burials

Why six thousand years ago, surgeons did trepanationA photo from open sources

A photo from open sources

The find was studied by Natalia Natalia, an employee of the Research Institute and the Museum of Anthropology of Moscow State University Berezina. “Extra holes in the skull may appear over for several reasons, says the researcher, as a result infectious process, malignant neoplasm, genetic abnormality as well as trauma. “In this case, none of Reasons did not fit. “Infectious process and malignant neoplasms have a fairly characteristic shape and bone the reaction at the hole’s formation, ”the anthropologist continues. – Genetic abnormalities are usually very clearly localized. After injuries on the skull remain characteristic debris, cracking. In this case, there is nothing like it, but there is flat, neat holes. ”

And in all four cases, they were located on approximately one and the same section of the skull – on the sagittal suture connecting the right and left parietal bones. The site for the operation was selected, according to modern experts, not the easiest and safest. “In the region of Sagittal suture very close to bone tissue powerful currents blood vessels, says Natalia Berezina. – If you hurt vessel, bleeding to stop is almost impossible. ”

That is, the smallest mistake of the surgeon, and the patient would face imminent death from cerebral hemorrhage. Scientists were struck that three out of four people who underwent complex surgery survived, and two then lived for a long time and did not die of trepanation. and possible complications. So, during or shortly after surgery only a man of 40–49 years old died. Another woman whose age scientists estimated at 25–39 years, underwent surgery and lived as at least a week. Two men after the operation could have lived for years, on which indicates the degree of bone healing.

A photo from open sources

Having studied the holes under a microscope, the anthropologist Berezina was able to describe in detail how they were made. Traces are visible on all turtles grooves made at the very beginning of the operation, when scalping. Further, traces of the knife were observed already in the bone of the skull. how suggests an anthropologist, cuts were made in the direction from the forehead to the back of the head, while the traces of the entry and exit of the knife from the bone are clearly visible. The skulls, as the study shows, were cut in an arc from two sides. until they reached the dura mater. Was done it is with a very sharp tool – a knife made of silicon or obsidian, because at that time, to which scientists attributed the remains, there wasn’t that steel, but even iron. In the courtyard stood the Bronze Age, V millennium BC, but bronze as a material is too soft not suitable for such operations.

The size of the holes is impressive. Each individual had them different, but averaged 30 by 40 millimeters, which comparable to the size of the passport photo. And on two turtles traces of two holes made almost immediately were found at the same time. Moreover, one, as it is believed, the main one, was about two to three times the size of the second. Judging by the complexity operations and their success, they were outstanding. “We should not underestimate the skills and knowledge of surgeons of the time, ” Leading Researcher, Institute of Archeology RAS Historical Sciences Maria Mednikova.

In addition, it is possible that the ancient people were much more enduring than us and trepanations were generally made by him without the use of anesthesia. According to Natalia Berezina, the trepidated could bind, while emphasizing that this operation is not so painful as it may seem: “Pain only occurs when scalping, cutting off the skin, and in the brain of nerve endings, transmitting pain, no. “It’s possible that the operations used local antiseptics – various resins, ash and plants.

Apparently, people deliberately went for such manipulations with head. But for what purpose?


Natalia Berezina claims that the holes were not cut due to injury or illness, such as hypertension. “Specific marks, which can be interpreted as traces of high pressure, on the investigated turtles were not found, “- confidently stated anthropologist. In addition, at that time there was neither X-ray, nor tomographs that would help diagnose tumors. It turns out that there were no medical indications for the autopsy of the skulls. Berezina s caution suggests the ritual nature of trepanation. Regarding the sacred meaning of this action, there are several assumptions.

People marked by a hole in their heads could be servants of certain cults, and the trace of the operation showed their belonging to special class. “Subconsciously, people in ancient times tried transfer your own anatomy to the device of the universe, – says Maria Mednikova. – And when people did something with their own body, they believed that they were changing the world around them and creating some kind of new essence. For example, in many nations the sky was directly related to head. Changing it, they showed thereby that affect the main thing is heaven, which presented them with the most mysteries, troubles and at the same time blessings. ”

However, in ancient times it was not enough to change your appearance, so that others begin to consider a person different. Had stand out by behavior, ability to enter special states, communicate with higher powers – to be connected between heaven and earth. Camlania and prayer appeals to spirits were available to the elect, possessing ability to correct the psycho-emotional state of participants rite of passage. But these rituals demanded from the people conducting them special “transformations”. Historians are well aware of the use cases. various psychotropic substances, mushrooms, herbs and infusions. Maybe, that craniotomy was on a par with similar practices changes in consciousness. And experts do not deny that she could affect not only the image of a person, but also his inner world, changing the psyche.

According to the neurosurgeon of the City Clinical Hospital named after S.P. Botkin Yuri Soshin, “a consequence of trepanation may be epilepsy, which in complex forms sometimes causes hallucinations. “Today, epilepsy is considered a dangerous disease, and ancient peoples, people suffering from it were considered God’s chosen. Many believed that in seizures, the elect were able to communicate with spirits. and sky. It cannot be ruled out that on the lands of modern Stavropol Once upon a time there lived peoples who believed in such selectivity.

Ancient Inca culture skull with traces of trepanation

A photo from open sources

Maria Mednikova believes that the practice of trepanations went once it is after observing people who did not voluntarily receive traumatic brain injuries that provoked a change in consciousness and human behavior. This was seen as an example of “divine madness, “so important in religious and magical rites. Later people began to intentionally conduct operations to facilitate the emergence of new properties and qualities in healthy, but chosen for special magical practices. One can only guess which prerequisites could serve in the election of a person for trepanation. Perhaps these were representatives of special estates or families bearing such an important role of priests in ancient tribes.

Only one thing is clear: the ancient doctors, about whom there are no information, well knew how the psyche changes during these complex operations, and made them so masterfully that some modern surgeons are amazed at this skill.


Maria Dobrovolskaya, doctor of historical sciences, leading Researcher, Institute of Archeology RAS:

– The earliest similar operations are known from the Stone Age, then there they were held more than 20 thousand years ago, in the glacial period. Subsequently, the practice of trepanning was also widely widespread – for example, in the Mesolithic era in the Dnieper, Western Europe, the Balkans. In general, it is a powerful human tradition. There is a universal archetype of trepanation. The need to carry out such operations arose independently of territory and culture. As for their goals, about this very extensive and varied discussions are ongoing.

Trepanations themselves are different. For example, just not through left a mark on the skull. In this case, only the top part of the bone that may have been used as an amulet. Then there are thus marked by some kind of noteworthy sign person. Some trepanations were used for therapeutic purposes, but in antiquities in medicine, the scientific and practical aspects were very closely connected with cult practice, with the influence of divine powers on human health. Therefore, it is very difficult to clearly define discussions for what trepanation was done – in cult or healing purposes.

Kathleen Taylor, Researcher, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, Institute Fellow studying nutrition, brain and behavior:

– Since the time of Hippocrates, trepanations have really been done to the sick mental illness. For example, to remove the so-called evil spirit in patients with convulsive syndrome. If a person suffered epilepsy syndrome, it was believed that the cause is inside it, and above all in the head. Such an operation can affect the psyche. There is even such a thing as trepanirovanny disease. If defect large, then the effect of atmospheric pressure on the state inside the skull. Normally, it depends on the position of the body, but compensated by blood flow, the so-called compliance brain – compliance with intracranial changes. At trepanation – external exposure – compliance is changing. maybe the emergence of the so-called adhesive processes – the formation coarse connective tissue scars. This is manifested in violation self-esteem of a person, the occurrence of headaches, weather dependence, mood changes.

Plant time

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