In 2020 and 2021, the Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma released photographs of a 2,000-year-old skull with a feature that might surprise modern audiences. The skull showed evidence of surgery to repair a skull fracture:
The text included in the above message, dated April 22, 2021, reads as follows:
Last year we released this elongated skull with metal surgically implanted to help heal a traumatic injury. This skull is now on public display in our museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. We thought we’d answer some of your frequently asked questions below.
Yes, it’s a real human skull that’s thousands of years old. Lengthening was achieved by bandaging the head from an early age. It was generally practiced to convey social status by various cultures.
This individual survived the [metal] procedure, known as trephination, based on evidence of bone remodeling. Trepanation was practiced by almost all ancient civilizations through different means and for different reasons.
The material used was not cast as molten metal. The composition of the alloy is not known. The plate was used to help bind broken bones. Although we cannot guarantee that anesthesia was used, we know that many natural remedies existed for surgical procedures during this period.
In the April 2020 post mentioned above, the skull was estimated to be 2,000 years old and belonged to a soldier wounded in battle. As surprising as it may seem, the patient survived the procedure, as evidenced by the fact that the bone surrounding him fused.
National Geographic reported that the procedure, known as trepanation, was relatively common in what was then the Inca Empire in South America, as weapons of war in that region were primarily sling stones and clubs. – weapons that had a high probability of causing serious head injuries.
John Verano, a physical anthropologist at Tulane University and author of the book “The Holes in the Head: The Art and Archeology of Trepanation in Ancient Peru,” told National Geographic that the survival rate was surprisingly high, around 70%.
The museum also noted that the skull was lengthened, a procedure that was performed in this region for what researchers believe were religious and aesthetic reasons.
Watson, Tracy. “Incredible things we’ve learned from 800 ancient skull surgeries.” National Geographic, June 30, 2016, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/what-is-trepanation-skull-surgery-peru-inca-archaeology-science.
Museum of Osteology, post of April 22, 2021.