View Full Version : Inca Skull Surgeons Were "Highly Skilled," Study Finds

13-05-08, 18:23
Here's an interesting article, enjoy! :tmb: ;)

Inca surgeons in ancient Peru commonly and successfully removed small portions of patients' skulls to treat head injuries, according to a new study.

The surgical procedure—known as trepanation—was most often performed on adult men, likely to treat injuries suffered during combat, researchers say.

A similar procedure is performed today to relieve pressure caused by fluid buildup following severe head trauma.

Around the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco remains dating back to A.D. 1000 show that surgical techniques were standardized and perfected over time, according to the report.

Many of the oldest skulls showed no evidence of bone healing following the operation, suggesting that the procedure was probably fatal.

But by the 1400s, survival rates approached 90 percent, and infection levels were very low, researchers say.

The new findings show that Inca surgeons had developed a detailed knowledge of cranial anatomy, said lead author Valerie Andrushko, of Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.

"These people were skilled surgeons," she said.

Beer, Plants Aided Patients

Inca healers carefully avoided areas of the skull where cutting would be more likely to cause brain injury, bleeding, or infection, Verushko noted.

The operations were conducted without the modern benefits of anesthesia and antibiotics, but medicinal plants were probably used, she said.

"They were aware of the medicinal properties of many wild plants, including coca and wild tobacco," Verushko said.

"These, along with maize beer, may have been used to alleviate some of the pain.

"Natural antiseptics such as balsam and saponins [plants with soaplike properties] may have reduced the likelihood of infection following trepanation," she added.

The new study was recently published online in The American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

"Skull Was Slowly Scraped Away"

Verushko and study co-author John Verano of Tulane University in New Orleans studied remains from 11 burial sites in Cuzco and the surrounding region.

Their survey found that trepanation was a remarkably common practice in the Inca capital. Of 411 skulls that were sufficiently well preserved to study, 66 had holes cut through the bone.

In one location, 21 of 59 skulls—over a third—had received trepanation.

While methods of trepanation varied over time, Inca surgeons eventually settled on a scraping technique to penetrate the skull without causing wider injury.

"The skull was slowly scraped away, resulting in a circular hole surrounded by a wider area of scraped bone," Verushko said.

Some of the skulls had been perforated more than once, including one individual who had undergone the operation seven times.

In another unusual case, in which the patient did not survive the operation, a rectangular section of bone that had been removed was set back in place prior to burial.

Tiffiny Tung is an archaeologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and was not part of the research.

She said that the new study is the first to compare the frequency and success rate of trepanation over time and in different communities.

"This is the kind of richly detailed study that really gives us a sense of what life was like for ancient Andean populations," Tung said.

"It's astounding that [such a large percentage] of the population underwent skull surgery and that so many survived."

War Wounds

Trepanation was practiced as early as 400 B.C. in South America and is known from other parts of the world as well.

Archaeologists have long debated whether the skull perforations were conducted as a medical procedure or for ritual or cultural reasons.

With regard to the Inca, Tung said, the new study should settle the debate.

"I think the authors are spot on when they suggest that cranial surgery was performed primarily to treat head injuries," she said.

Those injuries may have most often been sustained during warfare, according to the new study's authors.

Nearly all of the surgeries were performed either near the middle of the skull or on the left side—the regions most likely to be injured during combat with a right-handed opponent, Verushko noted.

In addition, some of the skulls showed signs of previous injury in the area where the operation was performed.

The fact that 19 of the surgical patients were women, however, suggests that the operation may have sometimes been performed for other reasons—possibly as an attempted cure for epilepsy or chronic bone infection, the authors note.

Source (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/05/080512-inca-skulls_2.html)

Here's an image of one of the skulls:

That's just remarkable, can you imagine they did it with beer & plants? No injections, no anaesthetics? (I hope I spelt that right)

13-05-08, 18:34
crap! that's creepy. Those dudes did AWFUL things :D Good info tho, thanks Jo :tmb:

13-05-08, 18:44
Yes I'm going to drink more beer every time I get an ouchy. :D

13-05-08, 18:48
crap! that's creepy. Those dudes did AWFUL things :D Good info tho, thanks Jo :tmb:

Yeah the picture was eerie because I was wondering how they made that almost perfect square hole in the skull (shivers)

Amazing technology :tmb:

13-05-08, 18:53
Excuse my stupidity but how did they "pasted" those bone-pieces again?

13-05-08, 18:56
Excuse my stupidity but how did they "pasted" those bone-pieces again?

I think what happened is some people suffered head injuries in war, so there was a build-up of fluid in the skull. They probably just drilled holes to let the fluid leak out so that there's less pressure on the brain & less pain. I'm not really sure how they do it ;)

13-05-08, 19:01
Wow the sound so unbelievably skilled and talented. The part when they slowly scrapped away the skull bone, mad cool...Who's squeamish? IM NOT!:jmp: (excuse my radomness today.)

When surgons dril holes into peoples skull to relieve pressure or to drain fluids those are called BURR HOLES. I know...gross sounding word.

13-05-08, 19:25
Thats pretty awesome. The pic's a bit creepy though.

13-05-08, 19:48
Thankfully we've got anesthetics today. ;)

13-05-08, 19:52
That's so awesome... People back then were cruel and savage, but this looks awesome nowadays... It makes us think and gaze into the coolness :D

13-05-08, 21:34
The ancients were certainly skilled - good to learn more about stuff they were doing back then.

13-05-08, 21:50
That's really interesting... It's amazing how skilled some of them were with limited/crude tools and stuff.

Thankfully we've got anesthetics today. ;)

Touché. :vlol:

13-05-08, 21:54
Thanks for sharing, Jo. :) I'm always interested - and always have been - about the Inca culture so this is amazing to read.

13-05-08, 22:39
they had anesthetics.
still looks painful.