Cranial Trepanation On A Woman’s Skull In India: Neolithic Alignments

Interdisciplinary work among anthropologists, archaeologists, and astronomers can provide a very interesting point of view for problems such as the one in this article.

The authors investigated a woman’s skeleton with many cranial trepanations from the Neolithic age (around 2000 BC) in Burzahom (North India). The young women (circa 28 years old) had eleven trepanations, nine of which were performed while alive and two post-mortem (Fig. 1).

The trepanned skull from Burzahom is a unique situation globally because a skull with so many holes (made alive) from the Neolithic period does not exist in widely in the literature.

Fig. 1 Dr. A.R. Sankhyan showing the Harappan (Right) and Burzahom (Left) trepanned skulls in his laboratory at Anthropological Survey of India, Kolkata. Credit: Iharka Szücs-Csillik

Anthropological and archaeological analyses have revealed that the woman was suffering from a brain anomaly (tumor), a head injury, and was insane or epileptic (Sankhyan and Weber, 2011).

The authors developed an astronomical orientation study to see if the skeletons in the small cemetery were aligned to a certain direction or about the solar arc (the zone on a horizon where during a year the Sun moves at sunrises and sunsets), as we can find at many Neolithic community from Europe. In fact, every element of the funeral ritual had its own significance and reveals to us parts of the ancient way of thinking.

We found that the skeletons where not uniformly orientated, however, we discovered a strange skeleton, which was orientated exactly in the North direction (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Solar arc and skeletons orientation. Credit: Iharka Szücs-Csillik

The research at this point became exciting, because for some Neolithic communities the North direction was sacred. The polestar provides the North point in the northern hemisphere. Many Neolithic communities who relied upon the concept of North point attached at the World Axes as a major belief were probably shamanistic ones. The North point represents a spot where the living people could communicate with the dead by the facilities created by a specialized person.

For most Neolithic populations the world comprised three realms: the upper world, the underworld and the intermediate world. These three worlds were connected with the World Axis.

Why North? Why eleven trepanations? Who can drilled these holes in a skull and can cure the woman? Who was the surgeon-medical man? So many questions…

The North is on the World Pillar (Axis Mundi), the Pole Star direction, which was not the same with Polaris star from Ursa Minor constellation.

Thuban star was the Pole Star around 2000 BC, today that star is Polaris. Ancient texts describe the Thuban star (Draco constellation) as exactly marking the North Pole in 2787 BC.

In the meantime, Dr. Anek Ram Sankhyan (2015) made a comparative morphological study on the skeleton that was orientated perfectly toward North. Dr. Sankhyan found that: 

This skeleton belonged to a man 51- 55 years of age at death, who was very robust with a round head and receding forehead, and his nose and face was very broad. He was distinct among all other Burzahom skeletons that belong to long-headed people with long and narrow faces and longer noses. One very similar skull (NGK 7) was in contemporary Neolithic population of Nagarjunakonda of Andhra Pradesh, South India.

Therefore, Dr. Sankhyan believes that the man was brought to the community as a medical and spiritual healer – a shaman, for the treatment of the young woman. He treated her first spiritually, then medically and finally surgically. Probably, for his acts of kindness he was allowed to stay with them, and after death was buried within their settlement.

Fig. 3. The distance between Burzahom and Nagarjuna Hill (Credit:\maps\).

We can conclude, first that our interdiciplinarity work made an innovation, that this method is a good guideline for future discoveries. Secondly, our research developed a story from Neolithic of a young, ill lady from North India (near Himalayan Mountains, Kashmir), who was helped by her family from outside danger, and an incomer man, who came from South India (near see, a distance circa 2500 km) to calm her sufferings using a carefully trephine technique (Fig. 3). Thirdly, the last two holes were a post-mortem study, therefore, we are thinking that the migrant man was a medical specialist, who knew and studied the trepanation mechanism.

For more information see:

  • Anek R. Sankhyan and George H.J. Weber. 2001. Evidence of Surgery in Ancient India: Trepanation at Burzahom (Kashmir) over 4000 Years Ago. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 11: 375–380 (2001). DOI: 10.1002/oa.579
  • Anek R. Sankhyan 2015. “Surgery in Ancient India” Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. DOI 10.1007/978-94-007-3934-5_9727-2 # Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015.

These findings were described in the article entitled Astronomical orientation of the trepanned Neolithic woman of Burzahom, Kashmir, published in the BAR International Series 2015 “Recent Discoveries and Perspectives in Human Evolution. This work was led by Iharka Szücs-Csillik (Astronomical Institute of Romanian Academy, Cluj-Napoca), Alexandra Comsa (Archaeological Institute of Romanian Academy) & Anek R. Sankhyan (Palaeo Research Society, India).