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Obsidian possibly used in trephination experiments, England, 1918-1920

Obsidian is a naturally occurring volcanic glass. It is a hard wearing material and can cut through materials such as marble and bone. It is shown here with a piece of skull trephined with an obsidian knife. The hole produced is 19 mm in diameter. The inscriptions tells us that it took half an hour to produce the hole and that the skull belonged to a 44-year-old male. This experiment was carried out by Thomas Wilson Parry (1866-1945), an English doctor who was interested in the tools and techniques of Neolithic trephination. Parry collected skulls from around the world and experimented on them with different types of tools.

Object number:

A652069/1

Related Themes and Topics

 

Glossary:

Glossary: trephine

An instrument for trepanning, being an historical advancement on the trepan. It is a circular or cylindrical saw, with a handle like that of a gimlet, and a little sharp perforator called the center pin.

Glossary: trephination

The removal of a circular piece of the top of the head. This is done using a sharp implement or circular saw, and was common in Neolithic times. It is thought that the aim was to release evil demons or spirits from the body in the hope this would cure the person of their illness.

Glossary: obsidian

A black or very dark volcanic rock. Obsidian was shattered into very sharp blades and sometimes used as a tool for working marble on a small scale.