Brain Surgery in Ancient Times
Hippocrates describes many operations of the brain during ancient Greek times. However, it is one thing to have something written and another thing to find concrete evidence that proves that such operations actually took place.
A finding on Crete Island going back to the Minoan civilization, has changed our perception about the level of medical knowledge in ancient Greece. The finding was a skull showing the healed marks of surgery proving that the patient survived the operation.
Another skull of a 20-year-old patient was found in northern Greece dating back to around 800 BC, which showed that the patient survived at least 20 years after skull surgery. The patient was hit on the head and part of the projectile went through the skull. The surgical operation that took place didn’t use a drill but a special tool sculpting inside the skull in a way that cleaned all debris and fixed cracks on the skull – a method described in texts of Hippocrates.
Another skull that was found from 200 BC belonged to a man of 50 years old that had brain surgery using the drilling method. Again for this patient the skull was cured while evidence for infection were minimal. The patient survived for at least five to six years.
More skulls have been discovered in other parts of Greece showing evidence of complicated brain surgery. We still do not know what had been used instead of anaesthetic in the past since having brain surgery without anaesthesia would have been intolerable and most probably impossible. Some surgeons suggest that the techniques used are comparable to the ones been used by modern neurosurgery with the exception of anaesthetic and antiseptic that we use today.
The earliest example of brain surgery goes back 6,000 years to Cappadocia, Turkey. During that period of time the earliest form of surgery was trephining which resulted in opening a small round hole in the head. However, it appears that the procedure had nothing to do with injury and it is not known why it was practiced. Some patients survived trephining and some did not.
One of the reasons that we lack evidence for the methods used for curing diseases in ancient Greece is that the patients were asked to give an oath of silence once they were cured at the Asklepion, temples of god. This was because spirituality was directly connected to medicine in those times, something that is significantly lacking in today’s era.
Egypt, India, Assyria, Sumeria and other civilizations have also used brain surgery. It is interesting to note that god Oannes in the Babylonian mythology taught the Sumerian people medical techniques and everything they needed to know about civilization according to the Sumerian tablets, and that is 4,000 BC.
It is interesting to see how thousands of years ago medicine advanced so much in several parts of our world and yet this knowledge was later lost. Medical knowledge of the past was given to people by the ‘Gods’ and combined psychological, spiritual and medical procedures. Sadly, medicine today has largely lost this holistic approach to healing.
By John Black