The first History of Medicine post is dedicated to the Ancient Inca Surgeons of Peru. The Inca performed head trauma surgeries called trepanation without anesthetic.
The procedure relieved the pressure of fluid under the skull that was observed in men after combat trauma. Years later, this procedure is now called decompressive craniectomy and is performed by neurosurgeons.
Inca Skull Surgeons Were “Highly Skilled,” Study Finds
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 (decompressive craniectomy).
Around the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco (see Peru map), 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.
Excerpt from, Inca Skull Surgeons Were “Highly Skilled,” Study Finds – (Norris, National Geographic, May 2008)
History of Medicine
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- Excerpt: Inca Skull Surgeons Were “Highly Skilled,” Study Finds (National Geographic, NatGeo)
- Image: The Inca Trephination Mural at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. (Alton S. Tobey)
Disclosure: Compensated Affiliate.