Trepanation and syphilis

I went to the exhibition I posted about yesterday on visual cognition in painting and surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons and was a bit under-whelmed to be honest.

It was interesting, but was really just some colourful information boards about the study and research project.

However, the Hunterian Museum is always excellent, and I happened across this exhibit of a skull with three trepanation holes in it, and evidence of syphilitic caries (cavities in the skull caused by infection).

There’s no other information about it, except it is pre-1831.

It isn’t known whether the hole-drilling operation was an attempt to ‘treat’ the infection by syphilis, but it is likely, owing to the fact that syphilis often leads to neurosyphilis.

Neurosyphilis is known to cause a number of neurological and psychiatric consequences – psychosis being the most well-known.

Some say that Dracula author Bram Stoker, was suffering from neurosyphilis when he wrote his final, and frankly weird, last novel The Lair of the White Worm.

The Hunterian Museum has an online catalogue, called SurgiCat that allows you to search the museum records and indexes.

A search for ‘trephining’ (an alternative name for trepanation) brings up a number of surgical kits used for the purpose and various bits of skull and brain-covering that show evidence of hole-drilling.

1 thought on “Trepanation and syphilis”

  1. for some reason, can’t regain access to none of the exhibition pages…
    btw
    I find you to present such interesting items regarding mind/art/science! that’s always great to pop up to visit your place

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