The word “trepanation” is Greek in origin (trypanon). It means “to bore.”

Trepanation was practiced worldwide prior to the advancements of brain surgery over the past century. It is a procedure where holes are drilled into a patient’s head, with the only precaution being that care is taken to avoid penetrating below the bone membrane in most cases, if you can imagine. It is one of the oldest surgical procedures on record, dating back to the time of the caveman.

The belief behind trepanning was that it could be a cure for mental deficiencies, headaches, and seizures, and could increase brain function or grow the brain, in addition to a host of religious or superstitious reasons, like allowing demons to escape through the patient’s head.

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Medical doctors and health care practitioners have stopped the practice of trepanning for the sake of trepanning. However, there are people today who argue, lobby, and advocate for a return of the practice as an elective surgery. There are books and Web sites dedicated to self-trepanners who bore holes into their own skulls as well. Sadomasochism anyone?


  1. An illustrated history of trepanation. ScienceBlogs: Neurophilosophy.
  2. International Trepanation Advocacy Group.
  3. Introduction to trepanation. Trepanation Guide Web site.
  4. Trephination, an ancient surgery. University of Illinois at Chicago Web site.