Weird History
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13 Horrifying Ancient Medical Devices That People Actually Used

Updated September 23, 2021 23.5k votes 4.4k voters 251.2k views13 items

List RulesVote up the most horrifying ancient or antiquated medical devices.

Going to the doctor nowadays might seem daunting, but it's nothing compared to what medicine was like centuries ago. Scary ancient medical devices range from vaguely-helpful-but-not-worth-the-risk to things that actually made your sickness worse. Some of them could even be deadly. Possibly most frightening, these dangerous ancient medical devices were completely accepted as the pinnacle of modern medicine at the time. That's bound yo make you feel at least a little thankful for the advances we've made today. 

That being, diseases of yesteryear weren't exactly well understood. The vapors were thought to be real, your humors had to be treated, and evil spirits were considered a cause of illness. It's no wonder some of these scary old medicines seem so shocking to us today.

So, if you feel like being a little morbid and historic, delve into horrifying ancient medicine. There are some pretty gruesome medical devices on here, so let's hope you have a strong stomach. 

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  • 5

    Chain Osteotome

    What's more terrifying than a chainsaw or a bone saw? How about an ungodly combination of the two? In the early 1800s, German inventor Bernard Heine created a bone saw with a crank for rotating the blades, basically a hand-operated chainsaw. Originally called the osteotome, the device is now referred to as the chain osteotome. 

    At the time of its invention, the chain osteotome was a medical marvel, and won a number of awards. Somewhat disturbingly, Heine conducted preliminary experiments on the effectiveness of his device on dogs. The surgical tool was used to cut through bone, at a time when anesthesia wasn't exactly perfect. Yeah, no thanks. 

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  • 6

    Bergonic Chairs

    Photo: otisarchives4 / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    Getting slightly more modern, we come to the Bergonic chair. During the First World War, soldiers came back from battle with what was called shell shock, which we now know as PTSD. Back then, no one understood PTSD or how to cure it, though various methods were employed, including the Bergonic chair, which delivered strong electric shocks to different parts of the body.

    It didn't work (seriously, who thought it was good idea?), and shock therapy still isn't fully understood, though has resulted in brain or muscle damage

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  • 7

    The Bow Drill

    Photo: Travis S. / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Dentistry has come a long way since the days of the Aztecs, but even those ancient Mezoamericans knew dental health was important, and they had to get rid of cavities and drill out infections. They, along with the Inca and Maya, did this with a bow drill

    Bow drills work like this: attach a metal tip to a stick, then loop string around the stick, and attach the string to a bow. Move the bow back and forth to make the spiked stick spin. Aztec, Incan, and Mayan dentists used such a device to drill teeth. Unfortunately, infections and other complications from such procedures using these drills could easily be deadly. 

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  • 8

    The Scarificator and Other Bloodletting Devices

    For centuries, many cultures believed bloodletting was a cure-all. Leeches were a common means of doing this, as were small knives or similar instruments used to make incisions in the skin. There was also the horror known as the Scarificator. In the 17th century, the device consisted of spring-loaded blades with depth control.

    When switched on, all blades sprung out at once, making multiple cuts, allowing for an efficient bleed. As you might expect from a device of this nature, the Sacrificator was responsible for scars, over-bleeding, and infection. Perhaps more frightening, they were used as recently as the early 1900s.

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