The first documented case of trepanation from Tarija, Bolivia, ca. 650 C.E.

Sara L. Juengst, José M. Capriles, Daniela Velasco Arzabe, Sergio Calla Maldonado

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3 Scopus citations


Trepanation has been practised in the Andes since 400–200 B.C.E., with numerous examples documented across Peru and Northern Bolivia (Tello,; Verano,). This practice appears to have been widespread across these areas; however, other parts of the Andes, such as Northwest Argentina, Chile, and Southern Bolivia, have not yet produced examples of cranial surgery, with the exception of one possible example from Northwest Argentina (Seldes & Botta,). We present evidence for trepanation from a ca. 650 cal. C.E. burial from a salvage excavation near Tarija, Bolivia. We found that this probable male, adult individual had two blunt force traumatic lesions on the cranium. In addition, there was a rounded perforation on the right posterior skull that showed external bevelling and rounded edges consistent with a healed trepanation. We suggest that this case implies that trepanation was more widely practised than previously understood. Additionally, the correlation between trepanation and blunt force trauma suggests that this surgery was likely performed as a medical procedure, rather than for strictly ritual purposes. Thus, this is an important contribution to the broadening literature on pre-Hispanic trepanation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-154
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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