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Pottery leech jar, Europe, 1801-1900

Leeches were used in bloodletting. They were gathered from streams and sold on by apothecaries who would have used jars like this to store them. The sides of the jar have tiny holes to allow the leeches to breathe. The lid is held shut with an iron clasp to prevent the leeches escaping. Leeches are a type of worm with suckers at both ends of the body and they suck blood until their bodies are engorged. Leeches are sometimes used today following plastic and reconstructive surgery as they help restore blood flow and circulation.

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Glossary: leech jar

Jar for keeping leeches in with pierced cover

Glossary: leech

A type of worm that possesses suckers at both ends of its body. Formerly widely used for letting blood, the medicinal leech may now be used following microsurgery to encourage the growth of new capillaries. Leeches are found in tropical forests, grasslands and in water.

Glossary: bloodletting

Puncturing a vein in order to withdraw blood. A popular medical practice for over two thousand years. Bloodletting often involved withdrawing large quantities of blood in the belief that this would cure or prevent many illnesses and diseases. The practice has been abandoned for all but a few very specific conditions.