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Bone fleam case, Germany, 1544

Fleams are used to open veins for bloodletting – a practice once carried out to treat a wide range of diseases and medical conditions. This particular set is highly ornate and would have been owned by a wealthy individual. The outer case is carved with biblical scenes from the crucifixion and the Garden of Eden. The top of the lid is decorated with a snake wrapped around a staff – the symbol of Asklepios, the Greek and Roman god of healing and medicine. Inside the case there are four inserts, each of which can hold two metal fleams. The inserts have carved representations of the Roman gods Jupiter and Venus. The base bears the inscription “Simon Wellenbeeck Am I: God is my Protector: the Most High Has created Medicine from the Earth”.

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Glossary: instrument case

A case of any kind used to hold and/or protect instruments.

Glossary: fleam

A sharp instrument used for opening veins, lancing gums etc.

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.