The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Three Cases of Trepanation from the Titicaca Basin from 200BC-200AD: Practice and Results


Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

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Trepanation has been practiced for two millennia in the Andes, with the earliest specimens coming from the coastal Paracas culture (circa 400 BC) near modern-day Ica, Peru. Few early examples of trepanation have been found in the Southern Andes highlands near the Lake Titicaca Basin, Bolivia and most samples from this region date to AD 600 and later. Thus, it has been suggested the trepanation practices spread into the Titicaca Basin either from the coast, or from the central highland regions around present-day Cusco, Peru. This paper discusses three individuals with evidence of trepanation from the sites of Ch’isi and Cundisa in the southern Titicaca Basin. Two of these individuals date to 200 BC-200 AD and show that trepanning was practiced in this area before AD 200. These two crania also had evidence of healing, which may have meant long-term success for those undergoing the operation. The third individual in this study dates to AD 1000-1300 and provides an interesting comparison in that that styles of trepanning changed and diversified over subsequent centuries. This study shows that over time new techniques of trepanation were developed, including three examples of linear cutting cranial surgery and one case of boring and cutting. Finally, trepanation seems to have been called for in cases of violent trauma, as all three individuals suffered from cranial fractures prior to trepanation and implies that in the Titicaca Basin, trepanation was primarily a medical practice.

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