According to Science Mag, the Incas of pre-Columbian Peru were experts in trepanation, the act of drilling, cutting, or scraping a hole in the skull for medical reasons, who practiced this procedure for hundreds of years.
Studies revealed that there is evidence of more than 100 people to have survived trepanation in the Inca Empire, which is considered a very high success rate. “Up to 80% during the Inca era, compared with just 50% during the American Civil War some 400 years later”, the website says.
Trepanation was most likely used for treating head wounds, but since many of the skeletons found in Peru have no signs of head trauma, experts believe that the procedure could have been done to treat conditions that left no skeletal trace, such as “chronic headaches or mental illness”, you can read in Science Mag.
David Kushner, a neurologist at the University of Miami in Florida, teamed up with John Verano, a bioarchaeologist at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Anne Titelbaum, a bioarchaeologist at the University of Arizona in Phoenix, to systematically study trepanation’s success rate across different cultures and time periods.
Kushner said that the results of the study revealed that just 40% of the earliest group of people who had had a trepanation procedure survived the operations, but 53% of the next group survived, followed by 75% to 83% during the Inca period.
“Techniques also seemed to improve over time, resulting in smaller holes and less cutting or drilling and more careful ‘grooving’, which would have reduced the risk of puncturing the brain’s protective membrane called the dura mater and causing an infection”, Science Mag explained.
These experts also compared the success rates of trepanation from the Inca civilization to cranial surgeries on soldiers in the American Civil War, which used similar methods. “According to Civil War medical records, some 46% to 56% of cranial surgery patients died, compared with just 17% to 25% of Inca-era patients”, the website reads.