The skull of Chios: trepanation in Hippocratic medicine

J Neurosurg. 2014 Aug;121(2):328-32. doi: 10.3171/2014.4.JNS131886. Epub 2014 May 23.


Cranial trepanation is the oldest neurosurgical operation and its roots date back to prehistory. For many centuries, religion and mysticism were strongly linked to the cause of diseases, and trepanation was associated with superstitions such as releasing evil spirits from inside the skull. The Hippocratic treatise "On injuries of the head" was therefore a revolutionary work, as it presented a systematic approach to the management of cranial trauma, one that was devoid of spiritual elements. Unfortunately, there are only a limited number of skeletal findings that confirm that the practice of trepanation was performed as part of Hippocratic medicine. In this historical vignette, the authors present a trepanned skull that was found in Chios, Greece, as evidence of the procedure having been performed in accordance with the Hippocratic teaching. The skull bears a parietal bur hole in association with a linear fracture, and it is clear that the patient survived the procedure. In this analysis, the authors examine the application of the original Hippocratic teaching to the skull of Chios. The rationalization of trepanation was clearly a significant achievement in the evolution of neurosurgery.

Keywords: Chios; Hippocrates; history of neurosurgery; skull; trepanation.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Craniocerebral Trauma / history
  • Greece, Ancient
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Neurosurgery / history*
  • Skull / anatomy & histology
  • Skull / surgery*
  • Trephining / history*