Tattoos are one of the most common body modifications known to man. They have a rich history and have been found on prehistoric corpses dating back to 3,250 BC. But there is a much more extreme, much less well-known body modification that predates tattoos by over 3,000 years – trepanation. Trepanation is the act of drilling or scraping a hole into the human skull. Let’s start off with the most basic question raised by this – “Why the fuck would anyone do that?”
In prehistoric times, there were no doctors, no psychologists. If a person was behaving in an abnormal manner, they would simply have a hole drilled into their head to let out evil spirits. Based on cave paintings, it’s thought that these people believed this was the cure for a multitude of ailments, from seizures and migraines to symptoms of what we would classify as mental illness in modern times. Trepanation was also the de facto surgical procedure to treat head wounds, which were pretty common in the days of primitive weaponry such as slings and clubs. Those who underwent this procedure often kept the small piece of their skull bone that was removed as a charm to ward off evil spirits.
This sounds insane, but the practice was widespread. Archaeological digs from all over the world have unearthed more than 1500 trephined skulls. This number represents 5 to 10% of all Stone Age skulls. In other words, one in 10 people from the Neolithic period may have had purposefully inflicted holes in their heads. You’re probably thinking about how great it is that humanity grew out of this fad, but here’s the rub – people are still doing this.
Though bogged down with the jargon of pseudoscience, modern proponents of this practice cite an “increase in cranial compliance” and an increase in “brain blood volume” as benefits of drilling holes into their own skulls. Bart Huges bored a hole in his head with a dentist's drill in 1965 as a publicity stunt, claiming that this increase in brain blood volume enhances cerebral metabolism. There is, of course, no scientific study that supports these claims.
Huges also argues that children possess a “higher state of consciousness,” and because the skulls of children are not fully closed, one can reconnect with this childlike state by reopening the skull. This also allows the brain to freely pulsate, which Huges claims carries a number of benefits.
Another modern advocate of trepanning is Amanda Fielding, whom in 1970 at the age of 27 drilled a hole in her skull, and filmed it for the purpose of documentation. The result, Heartbeat in the Brain, shows Fielding shave her head, don sunglasses, inject her head with anesthetic, cut the skin on her forehead with a scalpel, peel her skin back, and use a dentist's drill to create a hole in her head. It’s recommended viewing, if you can track it down.
Fielding says that trepanation improves cerebral circulation, allowing the body’s “full heartbeat” to be expressed in a way that cannot occur after our cranial bones fuse together. Fielding is such a staunch believer in the benefits of trepanation that she turned it into a political platform, having run twice for British Parliament on a platform of “Trepanation for the National Health.” With both efforts combined, she garnered a mere 179 votes.
Though it has fallen quite out of vogue since prehistoric times, the practice of trepanning lives on through the likely misguided beliefs of an enlightened, underground few. And while it may never rival tattooing in terms of cultural visibility, those who choose to perform this ancient body modification make themselves much more unique than the inked masses.
Though it has fallen quite out of vogue since prehistoric times, the practice of trepanning lives on through the likely misguided beliefs of an
enlightened, underground few. And while it may never rival tattooing in
terms of cultural visibility, those who choose to perform this ancient
body modification make themselves much more unique than the inked