Ancient obsidian technology finds its way into modern operating theaters.

Not all ancient technology is primitive. In fact, stone knives have been used for thousands of  years to perform some fairly advanced surgeries. The most dramatic example is trepanation, the boring of a hole into the skull to relieve inter-cranial pressure.


A skull bearing signs of trepanation. The edges of the bone have remodeled, indicating the patient recovered from the surgery. (photo via CNN)

From CNN:

Obsidian — a type of volcanic glass — can produce cutting edges many times finer than even the best steel scalpels.
At 30 angstroms — a unit of measurement equal to one hundred millionth of a centimeter — an obsidian scalpel can rival diamond in the fineness of its edge.
When you consider that most household razor blades are 300 to 600 angstroms, obsidian can still cut it with the sharpest materials nanotechnology can produce.
Even today, a small number of surgeons are using an ancient technology to carry out fine incisions that they say heal with minimal scarring.
Dr. Lee Green, professor and chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Alberta, says he routinely uses obsidian blades.
“The biggest advantage with obsidian is that it is the sharpest edge there is, it causes very little trauma to tissue, it heals faster, and more importantly, it heals with less scarring,” he said. “It makes for the best cosmetic outcome.”
He explained that steel scalpels at a microscopic level have a rough cutting edge that tears into tissue, a function of the crystals that make up the metal. Obsidian, meanwhile, cleaves into a fine and continuous edge when properly cut.
The article goes onto explain how when the two cuts are examined under a microscope the differences are startling.
Green said. “Under the microscope, you could see the obsidian scalpel had divided individual cells in half, and next to it, the steel scalpel incision looked like it had been made by a chainsaw.”
That isn’t to say that obsidian blades are without their downside. You are literally operating with a knife made of glass. Improper pressure can lead to shattering, leaving shards of glass in your incision. Not a good situation to say the least.


obsidian scalpels (photo via CNN)


  1. cmeat says:

    unawares of the glass cut until you see the blood and you have to search it out because you don’t feel anything, yet.
    how many angstroms are these ceramic edges?

  2. Ze Kraggash says:

    30 angstroms. I’ve heard that they have long been used and preferred performing eye surgery.

    1. I had heard that back in Freshman Anthro class.

  3. A. C. says:

    I heard about obsidian scalpels on All Things Considered at least 30 years ago. This is old news, even if it’s still not widely known.

    1. I have known about them since Intro to Archaeology freshman year.

      Didn’t claim it was a new thing. Just one that most readers probably didn’t know.

  4. bastiches says:

    Fascinating, but I have to imagine there are researchers working on better cutting materials. Or at least hope they are.

    Is this where *finger quotes* lasers have an theoretical advantage ?

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Ancient obsidian technology finds its way into modern operating theaters.

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