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Among Friends: 1926

Among Friends: 1926

March 27, 1926. "William H. Egberts examining trepanned skulls in the anthropology laboratory at the National Museum. The crude method of trephining with the sharpened edge of a stone practiced by peoples living in Peru some 500 or 600 years ago is revealed." National Photo Co. View full size.


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"What do you do for a living?"

I'm working with a bunch of numbskulls.

William Egberts

Mr. Egberts was the first Preparator to work at the Anthropological Laboratory of the National Museum. He started work in 1913 and became Chief Preparator in 1930. He retired in 1939. He was famous for his casting ability, and this image shows him examining crania from Peru with completed plaster (probably) casts at the far end of the table. His main responsibility included care and preservation of the Museum collections. He was a world-class professional.

Sawing away

No saws - think stone tool with a razor-sharp edge. Obsidian, for example, would be an excellent choice and would be resharpened every few minutes.

Do you know why?

Does anyone know why newborn infants have "softspots" on their heads? Answer: So the maternity ward nurses can carry them five at a time. (The first time I heard this, I laughed so hard I kicked the slats out of my crib.)

7-10 Split

Faced with a 7-10 split in the final frame of the Osteo Bowling League Championships, current title holder Bill Egberts chooses his ball carefully.
Although popular in the early 20th century, the sport waned as equipment became hard to come by.


....examining them for what ?
Never see a skull with a hole in it before ?
Pretty common here in New Jersey.


There are those who swear by "aerating" the brain via trepanning as good for overall health (of course, a lot of people say a lot of things). In emergencies, it's used to relieve pressure buildup from fluid or blood (I'm not a doctor - this is remembered from Patrick O'Brian books). But the claim is that it's not all that painful. The brain has no nerve endings; in fact, the patient is awake during modern brain surgeries.

It looks worse than it probably felt, is what I'm saying.

The Old Grind

A hole is what I need trepanning like in the head. (after MAD magazine, 1960s)

You can see from the skull he's holding that the hole was made with four saw cuts rather than a drill. The sound of that saw grinding into your head must have been horrific.


The chilling thing about this that, if you've ever looked at photos of trepanned skulls, lots of them have plenty of scar tissue buildup. Meaning the patients survived the operation, sometimes for several years. Some of them survived more than one "procedure."


If you've ever seen the movie "Pi," you know that the drill of choice for do-it-yourself trepanning is a cordless Dewalt.

CSI: Egberts Lab

Well, who are you?
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
'Cause I really wanna know
(Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)

Due credit given to The Who's original performance of the song.

As opposed to modern trepanning....

which uses a Black & Decker 1/4" variable-speed drill.

I'd be more worried about

the Peruvians with a sharpened stone.

I suppose they must have had some success with a procedure like that or they wouldn't have kept doing it, but .... ouch!

I wonder what the anesthesia situation was. Lots of coca leaves? Magic mushrooms? Or maybe the patient was pretty much in a coma by the time they got to this step.

Times have changed?

It's amazing what people used to do for health. Some day in the future people will look at the stuff we do now and wonder about us.


For some reason I get a terrible headache every time I look at this photo.

Mr. Egberts

I don't think I would like to have this guy living next door.

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