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Bow frame amputation saw, Europe, 1601-1700

Bow frame amputation saw, Europe, 1601-1700

Credits: Science Museum

Made from steel with a mahogany handle designed as an eagle’s head, the amputation saw was used to cut through the muscle, skin and bone of a limb. Decorative handles like this one fell out of favour in the late 1700s as they were uncomfortable for surgeons to use and could unnecessarily damage skin and muscle tissues during the amputation. Unfortunately for patients, these decorative features also provided a good environment in which germs could thrive. Until the introduction of anaesthetics in the 1840s and 1850s, surgical amputation was something of a last resort and was performed with no, or very limited, pain relief.

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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.