Previously published in factoidz and examiner
Cutting out pieces of the skull is not new to medicine, and it is possibly not even new to mental health. The first evidence we have of drilling into the brain has been found through archeological finds of ancient skulls. These skulls were found with a “burr hole.” The hole was made to expose the dura mater of the brain and was believed to cure mental diseases, such as epilepsy, migraines, schizophrenia and depression.
Trepanation (there are many variations of the name) comes from the Greek word Trypanon, meaning a borer. The trephine is the instrument used to cut out a round piece of the skull bone. The practice of creating this burr hole to relief pressure in the brain is also called trepanning, trephinning, or trephination. Evidence of these brain surgeries have been found all over the world, including the Middle East, Africa, India, China, Europe, France, and South America.
In a way it can be considered an ancient forerunner to the prefrontal lobotomy of modern times.
Trepanning has been used since cave man days, specifically the neolithic period starting around 9500 BCE; commonly known as the stone age. Primitive people are believed to have carried the trephine bone around their neck to keep evil spirits away. In fact, archeologists hypothesis that trepanning was a treatment for ridding the mind of evils spirits, the once believed cause of schizophrenia and psychosis.
Beliefs and superstitions aside, trepanning was a rudimentary surgical procedure to treat head injuries, remove broken pieces of bone, and clean out blood deposits after a serious head wound. In ancient times the wounds were probably sustained due to a blow to the head in battle by a war club, or even by a sling.
The earliest trephines were most likely made of of obsidian, a very hard, glasslike, volcanic rock that can hold a very sharp cutting edge. Ancient peoples could also have used a heated wooden stick whirled back and forth on the skull until it bore a hole.
Though the practice would not be used today for mental illness, it is still used in the medical field for corneal transplant surgery and also to trephine a fingernail or toenail to relieve pain associated with blood accumulation beneath the nail (subungual hematoma).
Montrealers have a wonderful world renown neurological hospital: The Montreal Neurological Institute.