During the government of the Incas, had surgeons who could remove small portions of the skull of his patients to treat head injuries, and did very well, according to a recent study published in The American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
This surgical procedure called trepanation, and used to be practiced in adult males, often to treat wounds sustained in combat, according to researchers.
The Incas were a warlike civilization that went from one conquest to another, and often suffered from internal wars. As combat injuries were most frequent.
Today it takes a very similar procedure to relieve pressure caused by fluid buildup following a severe head trauma.
In a tomb discovered in Cuzco, the Inca capital, they found remains of the year 1000, which had evidence that surgical techniques were standardized and perfected over time. Many of the oldest skulls showed no evidence of bone healed after surgery, suggesting that the procedure was fatal. But by the 1400s it is believed that the operation survival approached 90% of cases. Even with low levels of infection.
Valerie Andrushko, director of the study, University Southern Connecticut State, said the new findings show that Inca surgeons had developed a detailed knowledge of cranial anatomy. "These people were skilled surgeons," said Andrushko.
The study authors noted that Incan surgeons avoided areas where cutting would have been dangerous because it could cause injuries to the brain, bleeding or infection.
Obviously in those days did not have the benefits of anesthesia today, nor antibiotics, but managed with medicinal plants such as coca and snuff. "These, along with maize beer, may have somewhat eased the pain," said Verushka. Other plants could be used as antiseptics or reduce infections.
The technique used to trephine the brain, was not a drill, but with a scraping technique. "The skull was scraped slowly, resulting in a round hole surrounded by a larger area of scraped bone," he told Verushka to National Geographic. As you can imagine this would be very painful, but has found a skull that had seven of these operations, and survived them all.