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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Charlotte Roberts

Roberts, C.A. & McKinley, J. (2003). A review of trepanations in British antiquity focusing on funerary context to explain their occurrence. Trepanation. History, discovery, theory. International Colloquium on cranial trepanation in human history, Birmingham University, Swets and Zeitlinger.
  • Publication type: Conference Proceeding
  • ISSN/ISBN: 90-265-1923-0
  • Keywords: Trepanation, Britain, Prehistoric, Roman, Post-Roman/Anglo-Saxon, Later and post-Medieval, Funerary context.
  • Durham Research Online (DRO) - may include full text

Author(s) from Durham


This study focuses on the extant evidence for trepanations in Britain and assesses the possible reasons for their occurrence. Sixty-two trepanations are considered, ranging in date from the Neolithic (4,000-2,000 BC) to the post-Medieval (post-sixteenth century AD) periods. The post-Roman/Anglo-Saxon period provided the most numerous evidence (24 or 38.7% of the total), and in 43 cases the reason for the trepanation was not apparent. Almost two thirds of the trepanations had evidence of healing. Consideration of funerary context revealed that only the Iron Age examples, and one Anglo-Saxon individual with a trepanation buried prone in a Roman villa site, might have been the result of a special or ritual act.