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West J Med. 1982 March; 136(3): 265–269.
PMCID: PMC1273673

Ancient Technology in Contemporary Surgery


Archaeologists have shown that ancient man developed the ability to produce cutting blades of an extreme degree of sharpness from volcanic glass. The finest of these prismatic blades were produced in Mesoamerica about 2,500 years ago. The technique of production of these blades was rediscovered 12 years ago by Dr. Don Crabtree, who suggested possible uses for the blades in modern surgery. Blades produced by Dr. Crabtree have been used in experimental microsurgery with excellent results. Animal experiments have shown the tensile strength of obsidian produced wounds to be equal to or greater than that of wounds produced by steel scalpels after 14 days of healing. We have been able to demonstrate neither flaking of glass blades into the wounds nor any foreign body reaction in healed wounds. Skin incisions in human patients have likewise healed well without complications.

The prismatic glass blade is infinitely sharper than a honed steel edge, and these blades can be produced in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. It is therefore suggested that this type of blade may find an appropriate use in special areas of modern surgery.

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Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • The Classic Source Book of Orthopaedics: primitive man and ancient practice Edgar M. Bick. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1979 Mar-Apr;(139):2–16. [PubMed]
  • Canalis RF, Cabieses F, Hemenway WG, Aragon R. Prehistoric trephination of the frontal sinus. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol. 1981 Mar-Apr;90(2 Pt 1):186–189. [PubMed]

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