Popular Science

People used to drill holes in their skulls, and we're still not sure why

Myths about migraines have been greatly exaggerated.

unearthed skeleton

An unearthed skeleton showing trepanning.

wellphoto/Shutterstock.com

Trepanation—the technique of removing bone from the skull by scraping, sawing, drilling or chiseling—has long fascinated those interested in the darker side of medical history. One stock tale is that trepanning is one of the most ancient treatments for migraines. As I study the history of the migraine, it certainly has always caught my attention.

The word trepanation comes from the Greek , meaning a borer. The earliest known trepanned skulls date from around 10,000 BCE, and come from North in the Hippocratic texts (5th century BCE), when it was used in cases of fracture, , or paralysis, and in the second century CE Galen wrote of his experiments with trepanation on animals in his clinical studies.

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