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Under the Volcano:
TJU’s Ancient Surgical Instruments from Pompeii and Herculaneum

There are currently 46 active volcanoes in the world. With the recent spate of volcanic activity on and off-shore of the Italian peninsula, one is reminded of the most famous eruption of all time: on August 24, in the year 79 C.E., Mount Vesuvius spewed ash and poisonous gases, obliterating the lives of thousands of Roman citizens and obscuring the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum for 1,500 years.

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TJU’s Herculaneum Collection of ancient Roman medical instruments

Pliny the Younger (62-113, C.E.) orator and statesman, was an eyewitness to the horror and sent an account to his friend, the historian, Tacitus.

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Daniel Baugh, JMC Board of Trustee and philanthropist

The significance of this event went beyond disaster. The daily life of an entire civilization was buried and therefore preserved for the modern rediscovery, which began in the 1750s and continues today. Among the countless artifacts recovered were several hundred medical instruments. These bronze tools, now encrusted in the patina of antiquity, were made for diagnostic, surgical and drug-dispensing uses. The exact locations where these items were found are not known because the 19th century treasure hunters did not follow the rigor of modern archaeological documentation. Caches of medical tools were found in the House of the Surgeon, the House of the New Doctor, and the house and pharmacy of the physician, A. Pumponius Magonianus.

The University Archives holds a collection of over 40 of these instruments, which were originally purchased by JMC Trustee and amateur archaeologist Daniel Baugh (1836-1921), and came to the medical school by the 1930s.

Baugh, an industrialist, funded the eponymous Jefferson institute for the study of anatomy and also served as president of the University of Pennsylvania’s University Museum from 1899-1901. Long believed to be genuine, it appears that this beautiful collection of instruments were replicas produced one hundred years ago by J. Chiurazzi and Sons, of Naples. Their catalog also offered convincing copies of ancient vases and furniture. Several U.S. universities have similar copies of these medical instruments in their collections.

Although our replicas do not have the same market value of the ancient items in the National Museum of Naples, they do share the intrinsic educational purpose and the esthetic, which had originally interested Mr. Baugh.

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