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24 April 2011
Evidence of ancient brain surgery in Tibetan encyclopedia

Brain surgery was practiced by doctors at least 2,900 years ago, a specialist on Tibetan culture and literature said after four decades of research on the Tibetan Tripitaka, an ancient encyclopedia. "The 2,900-year-old Tibetan Tripitaka states clearly why and how brain surgery was carried out," said Karma Trinley, an associate professor from the Tibetan language and literature department of Tibet University in Lhasa, capital of southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region.
     Tripitaka describes in detail how a young Indian doctor watched brain surgery being performed by a veteran surgeon. The book said that the patient was suffering from a severe headache and repeatedly knocked his head on hard objects to ease the pain. When the young doctor, whose name was similar in pronunciation to the Tibetan name Tsogyel, saw the surgeon trying to operate on the patient's brain with a pair of tweezers, he shouted that the tweezers had to be heated first. Trinley said Tsogyel's advice on sterilization helped raise the success rate of surgery at the time. Tsogyel later became a skilled surgeon himself.
     The Tripitaka is the earliest collection of Buddhist writings. The information contained in the writings was originally passed down orally, and was finally written down in the third century BCE. Trinley said that many of the medical theories in the book are still used by Tibetan doctors today.
     Evidence of ancient brain surgery in the area was first found in 1998, when archeologists unearthed human skulls with mended cracks on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. These cracks indicated that craniotomies were probably performed by the Chinese over 5,000 years ago.
     Before the Tibetan Tripitaka's description of brain surgery was discovered, researchers used to disagree on the purpose of ancient craniotomies, said Karma Trinley. "Some believed it was a religious ritual to dispell evils or bring happiness, while others held that it was a therapy used by witches and wizards," he said.

Edited from Xinhuanet (20 April 2011)

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