Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/559

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541
PREHISTORIC TREPANNING.

ployed among the first men as a means of letting demons escape out of the system, by opening for them a door of exit?"

"I ask," says Broca again, "for what motive these operations were performed, not always, indeed, but usually, on young subjects, often on mere children; and I venture to suggest that they were due to some superstition, and formed part of a ceremony of initiation into some sort of priesthood. This would, indeed, suppose that there existed a sacerdotal caste among the neolithic people, and there can be little doubt that they did possess an organized form of worship. The cranial disk inserted in a skull after death, what can it mean but some vague belief in another life? If it be objected that the cranial mutilations were too grave to be accepted as a religious ceremony, I answer that trepanning is not in itself a very dangerous operation. If it is so often attended by fatal results nowadays, it is because recourse is had to it only in desperate cases. What produces death in so many instances where trepanning is resorted to, is not the trepanning, but the cerebral congestion which one endeavors to relieve by the operation. Besides, religious exaltation knows no limits. If certain divinities were ready to accept a scrap of skull in place of an entire human victim, they may have passed as remarkably indulgent. It is well known that among the negroes of western Africa some individuals will disembowel themselves as an initiation into sanctity, or to prove the efficacy of certain charms. Some of these men perish, but others recover, and such become saints among their tribe."

We are disposed rather to accept Dr. Broca's first suggestion than the last, and to regard trepanning among the prehistoric men as having had a therapeutic motive.

The perforation of the tomb was almost certainly intended as a door of exit for spirits. Even in later times, when the dead were burned, holes were often bored or knocked in the urns that contained the ashes, for the same purpose. Some cinerary urns have been found with little windows, as it were, made in them, and a piece of glass placed over the hole. Macrobius, in his Saturnalia, quotes an Etruscan belief that a door should be opened for the spirits to pass in and out.

The writer remembers a case of a dying woman some few years ago in Sussex. She was gasping, and apparently was undergoing the last struggle in great distress. The nurse went to the window and opened it. At once the dying woman breathed deeply and expired. The writer said to the nurse, "Why did you open the window? "The answer given was, "Surely you wouldn't have her soul go up the chimney?"

One can understand how that, if a piece of skull had been regarded as in contact with a demon or spirit, it would be respected