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April 2023
1min read

Dr. Neal Trubowitz, survey archeologist with the Arkansas Archeological Survey, has written us to correct an error we inadvertently made in our June/July 1981 issue:

“‘The Healing Art’ provided an interesting perspective on the practice of medicine in America, but it contained at least one error that slipped past art historian William H. Gerdts and your editors.

“The caption under the portrait of Dr. John Clark says that he performed the first successful trepanning in America; he may have been the first European to have done so in America, but Native American healers had practiced trephination long before Columbus set foot in the Western Hemisphere. Trepanning was frequently practiced by the Aztecs and the ancient Peruvians, who were masters of the craft and often performed it more than once on a single patient, and I know that it was at least practiced in North America in Arkansas (see Dellinger & Wakefield, ' Possible Reasons for Trephining the Skull in the Past,’ Ciba Symposia , 1[16]: 166-169, 1939).

“Skulls from pre-Columbian archeological sites in the Americas show that the operations were often successful (the patient lived) as there is evidence of the bone healing around the removed section of skull. Sometimes precious metal or shell replacements were used to cover the exposed brain. These operations were almost certainly made exclusively with chipped stone tools and they required a great deal of effort and skill on a live patient.

“Too often those of us of European descent forget the accomplishments of the native peoples who lived here for thousands of years before Europe was aware of this land.”

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