Hey’s Saw (From the Collection #14)

The Story

Trepanning, also known as trephining, dates back at least 7000 years to the Neolithic period. Derived from the Greek meaning to auger or to bore, trepanning is a surgery in which a piece of the skull is removed by incising the skull with a knife or, after the discovery of metallurgy, drilling a circular hole using a metal bit.

Anthropologists have presented a number of theories as to the motivation behind trepanation. Some have argued that its purpose was to facilitate the entry or escape of spirits, while others have surmised that the round pieces of skull removed were used as amulets. It may have been used as therapy for headaches, epilepsy, or insanity. What is certain is that by the time of Hippocrates trepanation was used to treat skull fractures, by removing broken pieces of bone and relieving intra-cranial pressure. We know that this surgery was quite common and that the survival rate was relatively high by the number of skulls uncovered by archeologists with evidence of healing around trephine holes.

The saw pictured here is of a pattern more than 2000 years old, as evidenced by finds in Celtic graves along the Danube, but is named after the eighteenth century surgeon William Hey (1736-1819) of Leeds. Hey’s saws were a common surgical instrument in medical kits of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The Specs

ACCESSION # (Web Link):997001102
Object Name:Hey’s Skull Saw
Manufacturer (Country):Snowden (Unknown)
Date Made:Circa 1870-1920
MESH Code:Trephining — instrumentation
MM= Cutting Tool — saw — skull

Additional Images

About “From the Collection”

“From the Collection” was a project originally published in 2010 to the Museum of Health Care’s website by former Curator Paul Robertson, with the goal being to highlight some the Museum’s most unique items that might be missed in our collection. Each artifact is presented as a bite-sized story, related information, and a link to it’s fully detailed entry on our free online digital catalogue!

Posts in the “From the Collection” series were originally created with support from Funded by the Ontario Museums and Technology Fund. The support of the Government of Ontario, through the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, is acknowledged.

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