History

Hole in the head: from pain to pleasure

Image of a trepanned skull. Credit: Welcome Collection (Wikipedia Commons)

The first known surgical procedure involved cutting a hole in someone’s head.

According to Dr Trish Biers, an anthropologist at the University of Cambridge, ‘once a person walked around with ten holes in their head.’

Why? You might be wondering?

Not in the name of outlandish fashion thankfully – medicinal, spiritual and pleasurable ends are all cited.

Today it’s a standard procedure for any neurosurgeon who might call it a ‘burr hole.’

In an interview with Dr Trish Biers, she combs through the long tresses of the history of trephination, or some say trepanning, which dates back to pre-Neolithic times.

She also asks why some people today perform it on themselves in order to reach a permanent high.

In a BBC Radio 4 ‘Out of the Ordinary’ documentary, the journalist Jolyon Jenkins found another possible use for the gory operation – some believe it could potentially help treat dementia.

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