Dictionary of Human Evolution and Biology

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Intentional removal of a small section of the skull vault without damaging the underlying tissues. This is found in many different cultures, beginning during the Neolithic, but was particularly prominent in Peru. Trephination was performed on living subjects, who recovered from this operation (based on evidence of healing). Based on the historical literature and ethnographic data of recent peoples, trephination was performed for a variety of reasons, including relieving pressure from head injury, and an attempt to treat pathological conditions such as chronic headaches or epilepsy. In modern medical terminology, trephination refers to a circular piece of tissue being removed; when the term is applied to archeological specimens it does not necessarily imply a circular shape.

Cf. trepanation.

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