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Ivory piston-action syringe, Europe, 1701-1730

This long-shafted ivory syringe was probably used to siphon off blood or extract a build up of pus from a patient’s wound. Syringes had been used from Roman times but were further developed during the 1600s. They were made from a range of materials including metals such as silver and pewter as well as organic materials like wood, bone or ivory. Syringes served many purposes such as giving enemas, ear syringing or removing liquid.

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Glossary: syringe

An instrument used for injecting or withdrawing fluids. The open end of the syringe may be fitted with a hypodermic needle for injection into the bloodstream.

Glossary: enema

A liquid injected into the anus. Enemas can be carried out for medical reasons, as a treatment for constipation, or as a way to give drugs.