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Brass scarificator, London, England, 1860-1875

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Scarificators, such as the one on the right hand side, had two uses: one was to open veins for bloodletting; and the other was to introduce substances into the body. This brass example has twelve lancets operated by a spring-released trigger. Skill was needed to make sure that the blade did not go too deep into the body. This scarificator was part of a cupping set made by S Maw & Son, a surgical instrument maker based in London. Cupping was a method of bloodletting. Warm glass cups were placed on the skin to draw blood to the surface, which was then released using a scarificator. The scarificator was introduced in the late 1600s.

Object number:

A86336 Pt1

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    Glossary: cupping

    The application of a heated cup to the skin, creating a slight vacuum , which causes swelling of the tissues beneath and an increase in the flow of blood to the area. This was thought to draw out harmful excess blood from diseased organs nearby and so promote healing.

    Glossary: scarificator

    A surgical instrument with several spring-operated lancets, used to break the skin.

    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.