Roman Surgical Tool

This Roman Surgical Tool is part of our Science and Medicine Collection.

It is made of bronze and dates to around 100 AD. Roman surgical instruments were used for examining injuries, making small incisions, for gynecological examinations using the speculum and even for abortions (such as described by Hippocrates). Double-level forceps were used as tooth extraction devices at least since 300 BC.

Galen describes a range of medical instruments used by Greeks and Romans. The medical surgical instruments were made of iron, copper or copper alloys. The instruments were used to remove stones from the bladder as described in the Hippocratic books using the forceps. The ancient Greeks inserted a hollow metal tube through the urethra into the bladder to empty it and the tube came to be known as a catheter made of copper or lead, straight for women and S-shaped for men.

Medical Syringe

This 19th Century syringe is part of our Science and Medicine collection.

It is made of brass and carries the words "Bigg. Maker, St Thomas's St., Southwark" on its side.

During the 19th century, use of medicines that were effective in small doses, such as opiates and strychnine, were developing. Dr Francis Rynd is generally credited with the first successful injection in 1844. Dr Charles Hunter, a London surgeon, is thought to have created the term "hypodermic" to describe subcutaneous injection in 1858. The name originates from two Greek words: hypo, "under", and derma, "skin".

Around the year 1866, formerly metal barrels, like the one in our collection, were replaced by glass ones, allowing the volume of liquid remaining in the barrel to be seen.


Apothecary Cabinet and Bottles

We have a 19th century Apothecary Cabinet and Glass Bottles in our Science and Medicine Collection.

The cabinet is mahogany and contains twenty seven glass bottles of assorted sizes and colours. One contains the label "Methylated Spirit", and a few retain corks or glass lids.

An apothecary was a medical professional who dispensed medicine to the public. They are the predecessors of modern pharmacists. Apothecaries may date back to 2600 BC in ancient Babylon. Apothecary shops existed throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. From the 15th to the 16th century, the apothecary gained the status of a skilled practitioner.

Apothecaries dispensed poisons as well as medicines, and, as is still the case, medicines could be either beneficial or harmful if inappropriately used. Many recipes included herbs, minerals, and pieces of animals (meats, fats, skins) that were ingested, made into paste for external use, or used as aromatherapy. Some of these are similar to natural remedies used today, including chamomile, fennel, garlic and witch hazel. Many other ingredients used in the past, such as urine, earwax, human fat, and saliva, are no longer used.




Lantern Slides

We have a wooden box containing fifty Royal Astronomical Society Black and White lantern slides in our Science and Medicine collection.

These slides feature Victorian and Edwardian images of the sky and its objects, including eclipses, the surface of the moon, galaxies and other phenomena.

The lantern slide originated from 17th century optical viewing devices which came to be known as “magic lanterns.” The earliest slides for magic lanterns were hand-painted images on glass, projected by itinerant showmen to amuse their audiences. In 1849, about ten years after the invention of photography, lantern slides began to be produced photographically. Rapid improvements in photographic reproduction methods and more effective projection caused magic lantern slides to grow in popularity.

From the 1850s, a growing number of slide manufacturers retained stock collections of negatives from which lantern slides could be produced, assembled these into thematic boxed sets, and sold them to universities, societies and individuals.

As new photographic films emerged in the 1930s and 1940s, magic lantern shows became increasingly rare.

Ammonite Fossil

This is a Jurassic limestone ammonite fossil from our Science collection. It was found in Somerset, UK and is between 200 and 240 million years old.

Ammonites are one of the most well-known fossils. They possess a ribbed spiral-form shell. Ammonites lived in the oceans between 240 and 65 million years ago, when they became extinct along with dinosaurs. The name "ammonite" derives from the Greek god Ammon, who was ram-horned.

Ammonites belong to a group of predators called "cephalopods", which includes the octopus, squid and cuttlefish. They moved by jet propulsion, expelling water through a funnel-like opening to propel themselves in the opposite direction. They typically lived for two years, and they spent their time in shallow waters. We know this from their diet and also the fact that their shells would have been unlikely to have withstood the pressure of deeper waters.