Trepanning is the oldest surgery know to man. It comes down to boring, cutting, and scraping open holes in a human skull. It was practised as early as 10,000 B.C. in Europe, South America, and some parts of Northern Africa.

If you had been transported to the 19th century, suffered from a headache and you wanted to be trepanned (have a hole drilled in your head), the best place to have it done would be in Papua New Guinea. When they did this they sealed the hole with coconut milk which was sterile and thus reduced infection.

In London, 78% of trepanning procedures resulted in death from infection rather than having a hole in the head. Trepanning is so far as we know the earliest form of surgery. We know people survived it because the bone and tissue healed around skulls found in archaeological digs. The earliest known forms involved getting the patient’s head between your legs and scraping away the hair, flesh and bone with a sharp stone.

Whole-body Transplant

A whole-body transplant is a hypothetical surgical procedure which involves replacing one’s entire brain with another one. Whole-body transplants should not be confused with head transplants, which involve transferring the entire head and have been successfully performed on rats, dogs and monkeys. With a whole-body transplant, a person with advanced organ failure could be given a new, functional body, including the skull.

A human brain

Aside from the major ethical issues this hypothetical operation would raise, it is also regarded a near-impossible medical procedure, as re-attaching nerves to the spinal cord is extremely difficult. The monkey that had gotten a new head transplanted in the United States between 1961 and 1971 was paralysed for the greater part, but was able to follow the scientists across the room with its eyes and apparently almost bit off the finger of one of them.

There is a certain advantage to whole-body transplants though; a brain is a so-called immunologically privileged organ, which would mean that – if properly transferred – it could never be rejected by the body, unlike for instance livers, which are very often aggressively rejected by the host’s body. Whole-body transplants also conjure up the possibility of immortality, or greatly expanded lifetimes at the least.