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Head trauma resulting in the development of a subdural hematoma, or a blood clot around the brain, was not an uncommon medical problem faced by physicians after large confrontations. These clots needed to be removed and made trepanning (the excision of a section of skull) a fairly common practice throughout early medical history. This was also the first documented operation performed in prehistoric times as early “healers” hoped to allow the departure of evil spirits whose presence was suggested by such symptoms as seizures, headaches, depression, or any bizarre behavior.
Peruvian skull demonstrating a partially healed trephine surgery (age unknown)
This early Peruvian skull was elongated by early headbanding as a mark of beauty. There is new bone growth at the margins of the trepanned skull demonstrating that the patient survived the surgery and may have died of other causes.
Inca tumi knife (ca. 1500-1600?)
Puma and snakes (gods of the earth and the underworld) are noted on the knife. It's unclear how the medical representation of intertwining snakes would be found in this ancient artifact of the "new world."
Feldtbüch der Wundartzney (1517) by Hans von Gersdorff
an early representation of trepanning
Paré triploides (ca. 1700)
This rare instrument was used to lift the plate of the skull during trepanning.
Traité complet d’anatomie de l’homme, 2nd ed. (1866–1871) by J.M. Bourgery, Claude Bernard, and N.H. Jacob
trepanning carried into the nineteenth century
trepanning set with trephine brace and Galt’s trephine, raspatories, lenticulars, and elevator (ca. 1760)
This set is seen on the cover of the landmark text on medical antique collecting, Antique Medical Instruments by Elisabeth Bennion
Trepanning set (ca. 1780) by Grangeret
This fine surgical set was manufactured by one of the preeminent medical instrument manufacturers of the eighteenth century.
This is a small but complete eighteenth century trephine set.
combination trepan and rowel saw (ca. 1860) by Charriére
This combination instrument was likely manufactured for exhibition.