BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific North Midlands/East West/South-West London/South North Midlands/East West/South-West London/South
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK: England  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Tuesday, 20 August, 2002, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Prehistoric skull had splitting headache
The piece of skull
The bone around the hole had partially grown back
The remains of a Bronze Age man, who survived having a hole cut in his skull to relieve a headache, are to go on display in London.

The piece of skull dating back to 1750 BC was dug out of the River Thames at Chelsea in west London last October.

It is just one of hundreds of prehistoric skulls, most found without accompanying skeletons, recovered from the river.

It is thought to be the first skull found in London that shows evidence of trepanation - a prehistoric surgical procedure.

Trepanation
It is one of the oldest forms of surgery known
It was still practised in the South Pacific islands in the 1920s
About 40 trepanned skulls have been found across Britain

The theory is that prehistoric man believed carving a hole in the head would release evil spirits and would relieve fractured skulls.

In this case it is thought it was used to cure a headache or migraine.

The bone had grown back around the hole, showing the patient survived without modern antiseptics or anaesthetics, say historians.

Dr Simon Mays, English Heritage's expert on human skeletal remains, and Jane Sidell, the archaeological science adviser, are discussing the discovery at English Heritage's London headquarters.

Dr Mays said: "Trepanning is probably the oldest form of surgery we know.

Surgical skill

"The skull shows that there were people in Britain at the time with significant anatomical and surgical skills, ones not bettered in Europe until Classical Greek and Roman times more than a thousand years later."

Historians have suggested that the skull may have been placed at a spiritual burial site before coming to rest at the bottom of the Thames.

Only about 40 trepanned skulls, dating from the Neolithic to post-medieval times, have been recovered from across Britain.

The surgery appears to have had a "remarkable level of survival" in ancient Britain, according the English Heritage.

Weapons found

This is thought to be because the bone was carefully scraped away, whereas in Europe skulls were drilled, sawed or gouged.

The skull was discovered by Fiona Haughey of the Institute of Archaeology.

Weapons such as swords, shields, rapiers, daggers and spearheads have also been recovered from the Thames.

The skull will go on display in the Museum of London's new Prehistoric Gallery, London Before London, which opens in October.


Click here to go to BBC London Online
See also:

21 May 02 | England
17 May 02 | England
10 May 02 | England
30 Sep 99 | UK
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more England stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more England stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes