E.G. Squier and the recognition of ancient cranial trepanation: the diplomat-archeologist and his Peruvian skull

Stanley FINGER and Hiran R. FERNANDO
Department of Psychology, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

In the 1860s, after completing a diplomatic mission to Lima, Peru for the United States, Ephraim George Squier visited Cusco, where he was shown an Inca skull cap with an unusual rectangular opening. Squier, who had a long-standing interest in New World archeology, knew that the opening had to have been made by human hands, and he believed that man had survived his cranial surgery for some time. He was able to bring his unusual specimen back to the United States, where it was seen by members of the New York Academy of Medicine (1865) and others, and to France, where it was studied by Paul Broca (1867). It caused an immediate sensation. Not only did it represent the very first case of trepanation widely recognized as such, but it showed that the Peruvians practiced an advanced form of surgery prior to the European conquest.

In our presentation, we shall provide overlooked biographical information on Squier and chronicle the events that led him to the eponymic skull fragment. We shall also discuss why Squier wrote so little about the trepanned skull and why nothing appeared for more than a decade since he "discovered" it. We shall also present notes and articles written by those who viewed the skull fragment in the United States and France, including commentaries by Squier, Nott, and Broca, the first two of whom correctly concluded that trepanation was performed in Pre-Columbian Peru to treat head injuries sustained in war.


Session V -- Neurosurgery Across the Centuries
Friday, 15 June 2001, 11:30 am

Sixth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and
Eighth Meeting of the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN)

Cologne, Germany