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Flint instrument used by T Wilson Parry for trephination experiments, England, 1918-1920

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Trephination involves cutting into the skull to remove a small area of bone. It is probably the oldest surgical procedure, thought to date from around 5000 BCE. Tools, such as pieces of flint and sharp animal teeth, were used to perform the operation although they would have taken a long time to cut through the skull compared to more modern instruments. Thomas Wilson Parry (1866-1945) was a researcher who made and experimented with instruments of a type that would have been used to perform trephinations in the Neolithic period, such as this piece of flint. Trephination is thought to have been performed in order to release evil spirits from the body, which were believed to be responsible for causing illness. It is shown here with a piece of skull trepanned by Parry using a flint instrument (A651997).

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    Glossary: trephine

    An instrument for trepanning, being an historical advancement on the trepan. It is a circular or cylindrical saw, with a handle like that of a gimlet, and a little sharp perforator called the center pin.

    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.