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Saw used to amputate the bones in the hand, Europe, 1770-1790

Invented by Benjamin Bell (1749-1806), a Scottish surgeon, this amputation saw was designed to amputate the bones in the hand – known as metacarpal bones. During Bell’s life time, surgery was carried out with limited pain relief as anaesthetics did not come into use until the 1840s. It became traditional in the United Kingdom for a small bow saw like this one to be used for hand amputations. Elsewhere in Europe, wire saws were used. The ends of the wire saw were held in each hand and pulled to the left and then to the right in a sawing motion.

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    Glossary: amputation saw

    Saw used for amputation. These tend to be instruments from the past, and were in common usage from c. 1500-1940 in Europe.

    Glossary: anaesthetic

    An agent that causes insensitivity to pain. Applied to either the whole body (general anaesthetic) or a particular area or region (local anaesthetic).

    Glossary: amputation

    Removal of part of, or a whole limb by surgery. Used to control pain or the spread of disease in the affected limb.