The Ancient Inca Possessed Advanced Cranial Surgery Techniques, Thousands of Years Ago

As it turns out, the ancient Incas were far more advanced than experts were willing to accept. A new study has shown that the ancient Inca were better at Skull surgery than Civil War doctors.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that ancient civilizations such as the Inca were far more advanced then we’ve ever credited them for.

Despite this, many authors and scholars agree that some of the pre-Columbian civilizations were quite advanced. Many Aztec and Mayan cities were as advanced as European centers of the time of the discoveries.

But now, experts discovered that the Incas were able to perform sophisticated cranial surgeries. A study published in the magazine World Neurosurgery revealed that the Incas perfected techniques of scraping, incision and perforation skulls.

The technique, called trepanation, was used by various peoples of the world for thousands of years to treat cases of head trauma, headaches, epileptic seizures and mental illness.

Peruvian skull from approx. 400-200 B.C.E.
Peruvian skull from approx. 400-200 B.C.E. The arrow points to a skull fracture researchers believe was treated with trepanation. This is one of the less successful surgeries: the person died less than 2 weeks later. Credit: D. KUSHNER ET AL., WORLD NEURO

Trepanation is defined as a medical procedure in which a hole is drilled into the skull. Trepanation has been practiced since ancient times and has been used to treat a number of symptoms including migraines, seizures, trauma, mental illness, and even a demonic possession.

But, according to the new study, the Incas were more advanced in that field than any other civilization at the time.

Somehow, the Inca were experts in anatomy.

“They seemed to know the cranial anatomy, avoiding areas that bled more,” said David S. Kushner, a professor of medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

The result of the study was based on the evaluation of more than 800 skulls that were operated by the Incas between 400 BC. and 1500 BC discovered in Peru.

According to the researchers, the mortality rate of these surgeries in the Inca Empire varied between 17 and 25%.

For comparison purposes, centuries later, during the North American Civil War, death rates from cranial operations were between 46 and 56%.

Scientists do not know the reason for the success of the Incas but suggest that hygiene may have been a determining factor.

Over time, from the earliest to the latest, the ancient Inca learned which techniques were better, and less likely to perforate the dura,” Kushner said.

Ancient Peruvian healers practiced hand drilling holes into the heads of dying or recently dead patients to perfect their surgical trepanation skills. Image Credit: Professor Danielle Kurin

The dura, a membrane surrounding the brain, contains fluids and prevents infection. The Incas understood that survival was dependent on avoiding infection and their changing techniques reflect this, say experts.

“We do not know how the ancient Peruvians prevented infections, but they were very good in that field,” Kushner concluded.

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