The Peruvian elongated skull with a metal implant - original image. Credit: Museum of Osteology

2,000-Year-Old Elongated Skull Shows Signs of “Advanced” Craniotomy

An ancient elongated skull of a Peruvian warrior - 2,000 years old - has stirred the scientific world as it apparently shows one of the oldest examples of successful skull surgery.


What do we know about elongated skulls?

The tradition of skull elongation was widespread in many cultures in different eras. The oldest cases of elongated skulls in Eurasia seem to date back to the Neolithic, when there was a radical change in the lifestyle of people in the Middle East.

In the Bronze Age in the III-II millennia BC, this tradition was adopted by many pastoral peoples who occupied the Eurasian steppe belt. If in the early stages the deformation of the skulls is more common in girls, then in the pastoralists of the Bronze Age – it has been seen mainly in boys.


And then, this tradition was adopted by cultures in South and Central America. Particularly, the ancient Peruvian Paracas Culture believed in something known as ‘infant head binding’ and used various tools and objects to change the shape of children’s heads. Thousands of years later, however, no one truly understands the true reason or origin of this tradition.

What is Trepanation and how did ancient people do it?

Trepanation is one of the oldest known surgical procedures although the true purpose remains unclear. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates described that this procedure allows blood to drain out after a serious head injury. Other sources suggest that this surgery, which includes drilling a hole in the skull, was performed as a treatment for mental illnesses.

Overall, there are various theories and the reason could have been different in cultures around the world. One thing is certain – head injuries were common in battle and the Peruvian warrior, whose skull is being analyzed now apparently suffered from a fractured skull.

According to researchers, ancient Peruvian surgeons were real experts in such injuries because archaeologists have unearthed more skulls with trepanations in Peru than the whole world combined.

The Peruvian elongated skull with a metal implant - original image. Credit: Museum of Osteology
The Peruvian elongated skull with a metal implant – original image. Credit: Museum of Osteology

A Peruvian skull shows one of the oldest surgeries in history

While this is not the oldest skull surgery, the 2,000-year-old elongated skull kept in the Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma is evidence of one of the earliest such procedures. Moreover, it has been proven that the surgery was successful.

Should we mention that all these interventions were done while the person was alive and without anesthesia? Imagine the will and strength of those ancient people.

This Peruvian elongated skull stands out among other discovered examples due to the metal implants that were used to keep the skull intact. Apparently, surgeons found a way to bind the fractured skull with metal.

Although researchers have not yet analyzed its composition, they explained that gold and silver were most typical for such procedures. All in all, this will not be the last time we hear about this particular elongated skull.

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Bogaard, C. (2022, January 18). 2,000-year-old Peruvian skull underwent successful Skull Surgery. Ancient Origins.
Gross, C. G. (2021, June 11). A Hole in the head: A complete history of trepanation. The MIT Press Reader.
Mcnulty, M. (2022, January 17). Metal Plate attached to 2,000 year-old Peruvian warrior’s skull may be oldest evidence of surgery. Daily Mail Online.
University of Miami News and Events. (2021, November 7). Holes in the head.

Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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