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Brain surgery in ancient Peru, the Incas and the Tumi!

Updated on March 23, 2016

It was with much pride and fascination that I read the article Excisions, written by my brother Will (writing under the name of Wagster). In it he not only talks about famous Connecticut neurosurgeon Dr William Scoville, but also about two of his patients: H.M and J.G.

J.G. happens to be my father and it is for that reason that I am writing this hub now, as I also used to call him Papi and because the Tumi, so often mentioned in Will’s article, is a symbol of my home country Peru.

I was used to seeing the Tumi in all types of Peruvian handicrafts: wall ornaments, copper artefacts, wall hangings, carpets and jewellery. I knew the Tumi shape well, but It had never occurred to me to think that it was a knife, or what it was originally used for. It was only after reading my brother’s article that I came to realize that it was used to carry out trepanations (trephinations) on people’s heads!

Suddenly all the handicrafts my mother used to have in her Inca Shop in Brisbane loss all their innocence and I was not sure whether I liked the famous Tumi anymore! I was proud before when I saw it decorating a wall in some faraway place, but suddenly it had other connotations, as I now associated it with blood! I could not forget though that the Tumi really means good luck and that whether I like it or not, it is a symbol of my country Peru!

Pre-Incan civilization used brain surgery extensively as early as 2,000 B.C. In Paracas, Peru, a desert area south of Lima, archeologic evidence shows that brain surgery was indeed carried out and that many were successful, with patients surviving the procedure and being restored to health.

Examination of ancient Peruvian skulls by physicians today, reveals that these cranial surgeries seldom became infected, with most surviving. What is even more impressive are the skulls exhibiting successful cranio-plasties, which are plates made of silver and gold, placed with such skill that the bone healed around them.

Analysis of the data leads one to conclude that, despite their rudimentary knowledge of disease, the ancient Incas must have had some knowledge of anatomy and surgical procedures in order to accomplish what they did. Surgical tools in South America were made of both bronze and obsidian (a hard, dark glassy rock formed when laval cools).


The New York Times published an obituary for Henry Molaison (H.M.) when he passed away in 2008, at the age of 82. There was no obituary published when my father Jorge Gadea (J.G.) died ten years earlier, in 1998, at the age of 67. In a way my brother's article in was our Papi's biography and obituary all in one.


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    • sylvia13 profile imageAUTHOR

      Sylvia Gadea de Beer 

      5 years ago from Shoal Bay, NSW, Australia

      Thanks for your comment! Yes, it's incredible and there were no anaesthetics back then either!

    • healthmom profile image


      5 years ago from Ohio

      I find medical history very interesting and enjoyed your hub. It's amazing they were doing brain surgery that long ago.

    • sylvia13 profile imageAUTHOR

      Sylvia Gadea de Beer 

      8 years ago from Shoal Bay, NSW, Australia

      Yes, I am proud of the Tumi and I love to see it hanging on a wall, be it in a restaurant, or wherever! I am also proud of the Nazca lines and many other Inca signs and symbols!

    • sylvia13 profile imageAUTHOR

      Sylvia Gadea de Beer 

      8 years ago from Shoal Bay, NSW, Australia

      Yes, I am proud of the Tumi and I love to see it hanging on a wall, be it in a restaurant, or wherever! I am also proud of the Nazca lines and many other Inca signs and symbols!

    • Christopher Price profile image

      Christopher Price 

      8 years ago from Vermont, USA


      The Tumi should be a proud symbol of Peru. Such advanced medical procedures being successfully performed so long ago amazes me.

      And as an artist I appreciate the beautiful craftsmanship in the example you have provided.

      Thanks for the links too.



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