Old World trephination

Thu, 22 Feb 1996 09:44:18 +0200

The earliest reported evidence for trepanation is from North Africa which
was reported by D. Ferembach in 1962. The date was ca. 10,000 BC. Here
in the Near East there are reported cases from Jericho 8,300-6,000 BC
whereas a colleague and I published what we believe to be the earliest
case whereby one could say with a high degree of confidence why it was
done (intracranial infection) dated to 5,450 BC. Intl. J. of
Osteoarchaeology 1992.

The evidence in the Old World seems to indicate that it was practiced
thousands of years before its introduction into the New World. Here in
Israel we have ca. 28 cases with a survival rate of around 75%, based
upon osteological changes surrounding the defect. What I find interesting
is that in Egypt whereby many rumours suggest that it was invented there
are but 14 cases. Much of what was reported as trephination is I suspect
simply the postmortem removal of the brain during mummification.

Joe Zias, Curator of Anthro/Arch
Israel Antiquities Authority