Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Tulane Anthropologist John Verano in the News

January 7th, 2009

John Verano was recently honored by National Geographic and highlighted in the Times-Picayune’s Higher Education Notes for his work in Peru.

Ancient surgery report honored
By John Pope

A Tulane University anthropologist and his colleagues have won praise from National Geographic News for their article for a scholarly journal about the ancient Incas’ skill at skull surgery.

John Verano was an author of a report that National Geographic described as one of last year’s “Top Ten Archaeology Finds.”

Based on 1,000-year-old skeletons they found near Cuzco, Peru, the researchers said that the Incas removed small portions of people’s skulls to treat head injuries, generally those that men suffered in combat. But because there were no signs of healing, the scholars concluded that, early on, the operation probably was lethal.

However, by the 1400s, the surgeons apparently developed enough knowledge of cranial anatomy to achieve a 90 percent recovery rate, according to the article.

This technique, which has undergone many refinements in the intervening centuries, still is used to reduce pressure on the brain caused by fluid buildup after trauma. The skull fragment is replaced when swelling subsides.

The principal author was Valerie Andrushko of Southern Connecticut State University.

Peru + People
Dawn Wesson
Associate Professor - Public Health & Tropical Medicine