Trepanation is a cranial surgery whose extraordinary global antiquity unfurled after its 1865 identification in a Pre-Columbian skull from Peru. For those who have never heard of it, this book will be mind-opening. For those who have, bioanthropologist John W. Verano’s long-awaited and assiduously researched contribution transforms its discussion from backhandedly ethnocentric surprise—“Indigenous Andeans operated on each other’s skulls for medical reasons?”—to a tool capable of turning still-implicit hierarchies within the histories of science and medicine on their head.

Consider this: nineteenth-century surgeons in Europe and North America reported 75–90 percent mortality rates when they peeled back the scalps of their patients to relieve intracranial bleeding and to remove bone fractures impinging on the dura mater and brain beneath. Over the past twenty-five years, Verano has examined approximately eight hundred trepanned Peruvian skulls in museums across the Americas to show that Indigenous...

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