Early Inca brain surgery was a milestone in the development of Incan medicine. In about 1000 AD, the Incas used trepanation to operate on the human brain. At the time, Incas may have had one of the most developed medical practices in the world.
The Incas believed that disease was caused by supernatural forces. Religion and medical practice were combined. Sometimes Incan healthcare involved religious chants and spells. At other times, anesthetics, blood transfusion, herbal medicine and brain surgery was used for healing. The brain surgery method used is called trepanation.
Photo: Inca brain surgery (Creative Commons: Thomas Quine).
Origins of Trepanation
The earliest evidence of trepanation goes back to France in about 6500 BC. Cave paintings indicate that such procedures were used for mental disorders.
Inca brain surgery dates to about 1000 AD. Inca surgeons scraped the skull to minimize injury. This was done until the brain was exposed. The Incas used scrapers and drills to remove part of the patient’s skull. It is believed that this technique was used to treat head wounds from warfare. Most of the patients were male.
The modern theory is that a head wound often leads to swelling of the brain. Creating a hole in the skull would relieve the pressure on the brain. A great amount of skill was required in this process. Ideally, the surgeon would be able to expose the brain without coming into contact with it. The surgeons also knew which areas of cutting into the brain should be avoided.
Evidence indicates that Inca brain surgery in 1000 AD usually lead to death. However, by 1400 the survival rates of Inca brain surgery was about 90%.
Today trepanation is currently used for the treatment of epidural and subdural hematomas. Hematomas are tied to traumatic injury which results in bleeding in the brain. That bleeding will increase the pressure within the brain and result in injury to brain tissue.
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Ancient Trepanation, The Epoch Times.
Signs of Cranial Surgery Seen in Peruvian Skulls Dating Back 1,000 Years, Huffington Post.
Trepanation: The Legacy of Ancient Brain Surgery, Science 2.0.