Would You Rather Have A Hole In Your Head?

Have you ever heard someone say, or has anyone ever said to you, “you must have a hole in your head”? If so, it’s likely they didn’t mean it as a compliment. However, drilling a hole in someone’s skull has been practiced as far back as 5000 BCE, and possibly before that. A skull found in France with a hole deliberately made in it was dated to then.

The practice is called trepanation, named after the device used to drill the hole, a trepan. Trepanation is the oldest surgical practice and is still performed ceremonially by some African tribes. About 1,000 trepanned skulls from Peru and Bolivia date from 500 BCE to the 16th century.

So why on earth would someone have a hole drilled in their head, other than being held down and having it forced on them? In the past, trepanation was used either to relieve pressure on the brain caused by disease or trauma, or to release evil spirits. The former is still an accepted medical procedure. The latter has died out in those parts of the world where scientific understanding has replaced belief in invading demons.

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, trepanation was practiced as a cure for various ailments, including seizures and skull fractures. Out of eight skulls with trepanations from the 6th-8th centuries in south-western Germany, seven skulls show clear evidence of healing and survival after trepanation suggesting that the survival rate of the operations was high and the infection rate was low.

In the modern world, trepanation is practiced for other purported medical benefits. The most prominent explanation for these benefits is offered by Dutchman Bart Huges (alternatively spelled Bart Hughes). He is sometimes called Dr. Bart Hughes although he did not complete his medical degree. Hughes claims that trepanation increases “brain blood volume” and thereby enhances cerebral metabolism in a manner similar to cerebral vasodilators such as ginkgo biloba. No published results have supported these claims.

There is a movement that’s been around since the early 60’s that advocates self-trepanation. In a chapter of his book, Eccentric Lives & Peculiar Notions, John Michell describes a British group that advocates self-trepanation to allow the brain access to more space and oxygen. The chapter is called “The People With Holes in their Heads”. Michell cites Bart Huges as pioneering the idea of trepanation, specifically his 1962 monograph, Homo Sapiens Correctus, as the most cited by advocates of self-trepanation. Among other arguments, he contends that children have a higher state of consciousness and since children’s skulls are not fully closed one can return to an earlier, childlike state of consciousness by self-trepanation. Further, by allowing the brain to freely pulsate Huges argues that a number of benefits will accrue.

What amazes me about this idea is that he somehow decided evolution has gotten it wrong, having the skull close up as we age. It simply doesn’t seem likely. There are many reasons not to drill a hole in one’s skull. Sanity comes to mind, for one. It should be noted that the medical and legal authorities reacted to Huges’s discovery with horror and rewarded him with a spell in a Dutch lunatic asylum.

He had his admirers, however. Joseph Mellen met Bart Huges in 1965 in Ibiza and quickly became his leading, or rather one and only, disciple. He went back to London and found a trepan for sale and attempted to perform the operation on himself. After taking a tab of LSD. He failed. Imagine that.

Anyway, my advice is that if anyone ever offers to show you the way to higher consciousness by drilling a hole in your head, politely inform that they, in fact, are the one that has one, and walk, or run away as fast as you can.

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18 responses to “Would You Rather Have A Hole In Your Head?

  1. I have to admit you have a really interesting blog! 😀

  2. Thanks. Eclectic is the word I like to use. lol.

  3. This was a fascinationg read. Have you ever heard of ‘blood letting’? Quite a few years back, I studied this kind of stuff, however, it’s like water on the brain, I’ve forgotten most of it until I read it somewhere.

  4. Yes, blood letting was practiced right up until the early 20th century in some places. Leeches are making a comeback. Saw a news program on it not long ago.

  5. Yes, I saw a movie a while back where the doctor was using leeches on a cancer patient. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, heh.

  6. Since somehow the topic has veered off to blood-letting, I read recently (and included in y web page – just click on my name to read it) that blood letting is making a comeback. In fact, blood letting is the only known cure / relief to hemochromatosis (a blood disease that results in excessive accumulation of iron)
    One just wonders if drilling skull might make a similar come back!

    By the way, GLM, great post!

  7. godlessmonkey

    Thank you. As you can see I first posted this back in March, but it was so popular I thought I’d bring it back for those who hadn’t seen it. Yes, blood-letting was extensively used until the the start of the 20th century. It’s still used in some places.

  8. You blog is very good, i am brazilian and like of read in english.

  9. I thought it was going to be some boring old site, but I’m glad I visited. I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful.

  10. Fantastic blog I enjoyed reading your information

  11. Kudos from a genius to yet another.

  12. Wherever did you find that design?? It is dazzling!

    • If you’re referring to the motion blur photo, that’s one of mine. I’m a photographer. It was taken outside the Cardrona Hotel on the high road between Queenstown and Wanaka on the south island of New Zealand. I was trying to get a photo of two hawks who were attracted to the two road kill rabbits you see in the photo but there was too much traffic so I finally just did a blur shot of an approaching four wheel drive.

  13. You got a definitely helpful blog I’ve been right here reading for about an hour. I’m a newbie and your accomplishment is quite a lot an inspiration for me.

  14. Thank you. Glad you like it.

  15. Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be Very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained!

  16. I met Bart on Ibiza in 1965. He was selling a lovely parchment document that explained the process and included an anatomical drawing of the process. As I recall, he had a young daughter named Maria Juana.

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