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A hole in the head: perhaps from 2000 BC

The earliest surgical operation in human history is carried out in prehistoric times in several parts of the world - in Europe, in Asia and particularly in Peru, where well-preserved mummies survive. Many of these mummies have the hole in the skull which is the result of trepanning (also known as trephining or trephination).

Healing in the bone around the wound in these mummies, and in skulls found elsewhere, suggests that as many as 50 percent of the 'patients' survive the operation.

The reason for the alarming decision to cut a hole in a living skull is likely to have been religious rather than medical in any modern sense. To let out evil spirits perhaps; or to give spiritual authority to a shaman who submits himself to the knife.

Merely by surviving the operation the shaman proves that he is favoured by the spirits. And his hole in the head, healed over with a flap of skin, will continue to suggest that he has an open channel of communication with unseen influences.