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Piece of skull showing a trephination experiment using a shark's tooth, England, 1913

A series of holes was made in this section of a skull using a trephine consisting of a shark’s tooth mounted on a wooden handle. This experiment was carried out by Thomas Wilson Parry (1866-1945), an English doctor who was interested in the tools and techniques of Neolithic trephination. Parry collected skulls from around the world and experimented on them using a variety of different tools. It is shown here with a shark's tooth used for trephination (A680638).

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    Glossary: human remains

    term created as part of the NMSI human remains policy (from April 2007); Other terms used are 'blood' and 'human hair'

    Glossary: skull

    The skeleton of the head of a vertebrate animal, including the brain case, or cranium, and the bones and cartilages of the face and mouth. The skull can be subdivided into two parts: the cranium and the mandible. The human skull is made up from 22 bones.

    Glossary: trephination

    The removal of a circular piece of the top of the head. This is done using a sharp implement or circular saw, and was common in Neolithic times. It is thought that the aim was to release evil demons or spirits from the body in the hope this would cure the person of their illness.