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Brass scarificator, Italy, 1669

Scarificators had two uses. One was bloodletting and the other was to introduce substances into the body. This scarificator is typical of designs of the period and has fourteen blades hidden beneath its lower surface. When placed against the skin, and released by the trigger, these metal blades emerged and slashed rapidly into the patient. Skill was needed to make sure that the blades did not go too deep into the body. Once cut, blood could be removed, often through the use of cupping glasses. The automatic scarificator was introduced in the late 1600s and, unlike most, this example is engraved with a floral pattern and a date.

Object number:

A600118

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Glossary:

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.

Glossary: scarification

The process of making a series of cuts or scratches in the skin to allow a substance to enter the body.