Surgical Illustrations

In what many of their contemporaries would describe as the science of futility, 19th-Century surgeons were merely grasping at what modern day doctors are capable of doing.

Though the first surgery employing anesthetic wasn’t successful until 1846, this didn’t keep doctors from studying human anatomy. The Wellcome Library in England has a large library of early surgical drawing dating back to ancient Egypt.

The following surgical illustrations were made prior to mainstream anesthesia, meaning their findings were discovered without the ability to keep patients from feeling what was happening.


acupuncture and suturs

Acupuncture needles and suturing techniques/CC Wellcome Library

Tools and instruments for boring holes into the skull

Tools and instruments for boring holes into the skull/CC Wellcome Library

Demonstrating the ligature of an artery

Demonstrating the ligature of an artery/CC Wellcome Library

Jaw removal

Jaw removal/CC Wellcome Library

Toe amputations

Toe amputations/CC Wellcome Library

Operative surgery

Operative surgery/CC Wellcome Library

Child delivery via Cessarian section

Child delivery via Cesarean section/CC Wellcome Library

Removing tongue cancer

Removing tongue cancer/CC Welcome Library

Surgery to correct crossed eyes

Surgery to correct crossed eyes/CC Wellcome Library

Amputation of the finger and thumb

Amputation of the finger and thumb/CC Wellcome Library

How’s It Made

While these may seem overly grisly, do keep in mind that surgeons long studied cadavers before practicing on people, and they were able to learn much about basic human anatomy this way.

Though anesthetics weren’t used until the mid-1800s, analgesics—painkillers—have been used since time immemorial. While an analgesic reduces pain, a patient can still feel what’s going on. An anesthetic removes all sensation.

Never Miss an Unbelievable Story!

Newsletter Subscription (Sidebar)

Sign up for our Newsletter and get weird news and exclusive offers to Ripley's, delivered straight to your inbox!