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Trepanation in South-Central Peru during the early late intermediate period (ca. AD 1000–1250)


  • Danielle S. Kurin

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA
    • Correspondence to: Danielle S. Kurin, Department of Anthropology, HSSB 1002, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-3210, USA. E-mail:

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This study evaluates trepanations from five well-contextualized prehistoric sites in the south-central highlands of Andahuaylas, Peru. The emergence of trepanation in this region coincides with the collapse of the Wari Empire, ca. ad 1000. Thirty-two individuals from Andahuaylas, AMS radiocarbon dated to the early Late Intermediate Period (ca. ad 1000–1250), were found to have 45 total trepanations. Various surgical techniques were being employed concurrently throughout the region. Scraping trepanations evinced the highest survival rate; circular grooving, drilling and boring, and linear cutting were far less successful. Evidence of perioperative procedures like hair shaving, poultice application, and possible cranioplasty use aimed to ensure the survival of a trepanation recipient. Postmortem trepanations, also present in Andahuaylas, were likely executed on corpses as a means of better understanding cranial anatomy and improving techniques. Similarities in trepanation patterns throughout the region attest to common motivations to engage in surgery. Although moderate physical head trauma seems to be the impetus for intervention in many cases of trepanation, other motivations included physiological and possibly psychosomatic factors. Nevertheless, treatment was not for everyone. In Andahuaylas, trepanations were withheld from subadults, females, and those individuals who practiced cranial modification. Am J Phys Anthropol 152:484–494, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.