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Object of the Week

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Chest Tattoo

Chest Tattoo

Our final tattoo-related specimen for Object of the Week is this rather large portion of skin from the chest. Despite having little information on it, the magnificent artworks give us some clues as to its origins and owner’s life. It is likely that this specimen came from a seafarer, because all of the tattoos are commonly associated with, and have significance for, sailors. A swallow could be tattooed for every 5000 nautical miles a sailor had travelled and also because they are known to migrate huge distances safely home. Snakes have a variety of meanings, but could signify power. Finally, a fully rigged ship showed that he had navigated around Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America. He was most likely American, as the flag on the ship is probably that of the United States. The ship is a clipper, and he probably sailed in one just like it. A picture now emerges of an American sailor who had travelled for thousands of miles around the globe!

Sawfish Rostrum

Sawfish Rostrum

This month we are looking at comparative anatomy specimens in the Museum collection. This week’s specimen is a Sawfish Rostrum. The rostrum, or beak, of this particular specimen is 1 ¼ metres long with a width of 40cm. The teeth on the edge of the beak are covered with electro-sensitive pores, which allow the sawfish to detect the movement of prey on the ocean floor. This particular specimen was acquired by the college in 1821 as part of the Barclay Collection, a collection of comparative anatomy, which John Barclay gifted to the College on the condition that a building was built to house the collection. Regular visitors to Surgeons’ Hall Museums will know that the museum is home to a vast collection of human specimens and a small selection of animal specimens. Animal specimens were collected in order to compare the anatomy of animals to humans in order to gain a better understanding. One of Barclay’s pupils went on to establish the Royal (Dick) Veterinary School in Edinburgh in 1823.

Dissected Lobster

Dissected Lobster

This week we continue our theme of comparative anatomy by looking at this dissected lobster. This particular specimen was dissected to learn about its nervous system. Anatomists such as John Barclay collected specimens so they could study similarities between different species. There are two major ideas of comparative anatomy; analogous structures and homologous structures. Analogous structures are similar but appear in different organisms because of the environment they evolve in. For example sharks and whales have the same torpedo shape because of the environment that they lived in. Homologous structures are similar because of a shared ancestry that exists between species. For example, turtles, dolphins and humans all have a humerus bone, but evolution dictates that how they are formed

Frog Skeleton

Frog Skeleton

This week we are looking at the skeletal dissection of a frog. It is part of a collection of comparative anatomy put together by John Struthers (1823-1899), Scottish zoologist and anatomist. At one time, the museum held a whole array of animals, from a tiger skeleton and a dolphin skull, to the pulmonary vein of a whale and the skin of a porcupine fish. Much of what we do have will be featured in the new displays that open in September.

Beck's Microscope

Mid 19th Century Microscope

This week’s object is a microscope from the mid-19th century, made by the R & J Beck Company in London. The lenses of the microscope were made according the formulas of Joseph Jackson Lister, who invented the achromatic lens. Joseph Jackson Lister was the father of Joseph Lister, who is known for spearheading the use of antisepsis in surgery. J.J. Lister was profoundly interested in natural history, but felt that microscopes of the time did not adequately detail the structure of cells of plants and animals. As a result of this he set about constructing and designing a superior achromatic lens, which in turn led to an optical microscope with far better resolution than ever before.

Cathcart Freezing Microtome

Cathcart Freezing Microtome

This is the Cathcart Freezing Microtome, which is dated 1906, named after Charles Walker Cathcart, Conservator and Curator of the Museum. A microtome is an instrument that allows for specimens, such as tissue samples, to be sliced thinly so that they can be viewed as a slide under the microscope. The most common way of preparing samples traditionally was by embedding the tissue in molten paraffin wax. When it had set, these could then be sliced. This particular microtome used an ether spray to first freeze, and then cut samples.

X-ray of Joseph Lister's hand

X-ray of Lord Lister's hand

Our object for this week is an X-ray taken of Lord Joseph Lister’s hand. This particular X-ray was made in November 1896 at King’s College Hospital. The exposure time was said to be two minutes. This image was also taken within 18 months of Wilhelm Röntgen’s discovery of x-rays. Röntgen’s discovery led him to be considered as the father of diagnostic radiology, the medical speciality which uses imaging to diagnose and treat disease seen within the body.

The Edinburgh Stereoscopic Atlas of Anatomy

The Edinburgh Stereoscopic Atlas of Anatomy

David Waterston, a lecturer and senior demonstrator in the Department of Anatomy at the University of Edinburgh in the early 1900's, was the author of the Edinburgh Stereoscopic Atlas of Anatomy. It provided realistic 3D impressions of human anatomical dissections, helping students to gain important insights into the structure and spaces of the body. Stereoscopic images consist of sets of two photographs taken from very slightly different perspectives which are then viewed together through a box or hand-held viewer, similar to the one in the image. They contain lenses which create an optical illusion that the brain puts together as a three dimensional image.

Model Head

Model Head

This cast of a head is our final imaging object this month. Models or casts such as this were used to teach students. An advantage of using models, was that they were more robust than wet specimens, as they could be passed around and handled. This particular model is made of plaster with half the brain exposed. It is mounted with a metal pin on a wooden stand.

Joseph Bell's Robes

Joseph Bell's RCSEd Gown

This month we are looking at objects in the collection associated with Joseph Bell, a fellow of the College more commonly known as the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. These particular robes belonged to Joseph Bell, the last of the Bell medical dynasty which started with Benjamin Bell in 1771. Joseph Bell was educated at Edinburgh Academy and Edinburgh University where he graduated MD in 1859. He was the first surgeon to give systematic instruction to nurses, the first surgeon to the newly created Department of Surgery in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in 1887 and was editor of the Edinburgh Medical Journal from 1873 to 1896. He was the College’s Honorary Secretary and Treasurer for eleven years until 1887, when he became President.

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