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Neurosurgeons View Peruvian Trephined Skulls During Special Visit to Field Museum

AANS Newsletter, Winter 1991


Incan tumi knives donated to AANS Archives by Joseph Epstein in 1989. The Archives received the following letter with this donation - 9/25/89

As a member of the AANS, I am happy to donate these bronze instruments to the museum. The 2 large knives are tumi knives used for trephining the skull making the square holes found in Inca and pre-Inca tombs. The mounted set are neurosurgical instruments found in ChanChan near Tujillo in Peru where I worked with the Hope Project 20 years ago, courtesy of Lester Mount - gifts from grateful patients.


Ronald Pawl listens to Anibal Pepper
Ronald Pawl listens to Anibal Pepper who is well-versed on the subject of the medicine performed by the ancients of his native Peru and was able to add interesting archeological information during the examination of the skulls.


Catalogue information from the Field Museum on skull #40235
Catalogue information from the Field Museum on skull #40235 is "Skeleton, Cranium deformed by artificial bandaging. Skull tre-panned. Acquired 10-31-1893, Purchase, F.M.N.H. Collected by E. Monty in Huraando, Peru."


Group Photo
Standing in front of the Field Museum are the following, Back row: John B. Oldershaw, James L. Stone, and Ronald Pawl. Front row: Joseph P. Cascino, John Stilp, and Anibal Pepper.


Examining skulls
Wearing white cotton gloves, John Stilp and Robert Levy exam-ine two of the skulls the Field Museum provided.

In 1989, the Archives received a donation from Joseph Epstein of mounted Incan bronze knives and probes collected in Peru (pictured left) while he served on the USS Hope in the 1960s. In an effort to more accurately identify the items, in February 1990, AANS Staff member Chris Philips visited Charles Stanish, Curator of New World Antiquities at the Field Museum. The items were identified as being from the Chimoo tribe (pre-Inca) and dated at between 1200 and 1450 A.D. He offered the AANS the opportunity to return to the Field Museum to view and photograph their collection of Peruvian trephined skulls from that era.

A letter was sent to all neurosurgeons in the Chicago area telling them of the Field Museum's invitation. The viewing was set for October 11, 1990. In attendance were Joseph P. Cascino, Robert Levy, John B. Oldershaw, Ronald Pawl, Anibal Pepper (a general surgeon from Peru), Thomas Stilp, and James L. Stone, along with Mrs. Philips and a photographer. The Field Museum staff was helpful and provided an excellent selection of real skulls and skull casts for hands-on examination and photographs.

There was a good deal of speculation regarding the causes of injury and symptoms that prompted the surgeries to be performed and, of course, surgical approaches and considerations that were made by those who performed the procedures. Many of the trephinations showed varying degrees of healing. One double-trephined skull created much interest due to the fact that it was determined to be that of a royal female whose skull had been molded as a child into an elongated shape (see photo).


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