Why Drill Holes in Heads?

  1. Published on November 9, 2011

Sentences which end “… like I need a hole in the head” are for the most part unambiguous. In fact there are a number of reasons why we might find holes in the skulls of our ancestors.

Portrait of a Wounded man by Pare

The peri-mortem causes (sling shots, spears, axes and a host of other weapons, syphilis, intracranial tumours, even age related wear) would be things to avoid.

All rare now of course, but the adjacent picture is a reminder that in times past, serious trauma was commonplace.

Some of the post-mortem causes were less than desirable too such has having an aperture made from which your skull could be suspended and paraded to your enemies.

Other post-mortem causes may have been associated with a degree of Kudos. For example, having one’s brain removed through an aperture in the cranium for the purpose of mummification. Or having pieces of skull called “rondelles” removed, usually from notable individuals or warriors, to be worn as amulets (2). Craniotomy was also almost certainly performed in some civilisations as a post mortem ritual (3)

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