An ancient Peruvian skull with a surgical implant has experts divided

Is it a historical piece or a modern day fake?
Ameya Paleja

An ancient skull believed to belong to a Peruvian male, which was recently donated to the Museum of Osteology in Oklahoma City, has the experts divided, Live Science reported.  

Detailed analyses are still to be conducted on the skull, however, the preliminary observations confirmed that the piece has Peruvian origins. Ancient Peruvians squeezed children's heads with bands to give them a unique cone-shaped elongated shape. This is distinctly observed in the case of this skull as well. And, it is the presence of the metal implant that has split opinions. 

An ancient surgery

The metal implant is wedged on the right side of the skull and also has a small hole underneath. Called trepanation, this is an ancient technique to treat injuries of the skull or medical conditions, while it would mean that ancient Peruvians performed surgeries and used metal implants to help in the healing and recovery processes. 

Adding fuel to this theory are the fracture lines around the plate that give the appearance of a healed injury over a period of time. Danielle Kurin, a Professor of anthropology at the University of Calfornia, Santa Barbara told Live Science that the individual likely survived for weeks or even months, and thinks that the implant could be authentic since it was thinly hammered into the shape. 

Kurin suggests that an X-ray of the skull could answer a few questions such as whether the metal plate is covering the trepanation or an open fracture on the skull. Her previous works have shown that Peruvians wore tight-fitting skulls caps made out of metal about 800 years ago. 

Recent fake

John Verano, also a professor of anthropology at Tulane University in Louisiana, however, believes that the implant is forgery aimed at increasing the value of the skull. Verano has examined several skulls from the region during his professional career and even found other skulls that have sported such metal implants.

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Verano is confident that the implants were put into the skull many decades ago, probably even before the donor came into the possession of the skull. Verano, who has studied Peruvian skulls in the past, does not question the legitimacy of the skull's origins but only that of the implant.

In a 2010 paper, Verano stated that metal implants were either forgeries or placed as grave offerings in Peruvian culture, Live Science reported. Metallurgical tests could shed more light on the origins of the metal implant. However, it is unclear when further tests will be performed on the skull. 

It seems that the mystery will unfold slowly. 

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