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11 Weird Old-School Plastic Surgery Techniques

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Despite its common usage as a term to mean "artificial" or "cosmetic," plastic surgery derives from the Greek πλαστικός (plastikos), which means "to mold or give form." Modern plastic surgery encompasses both cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, and has a history that goes much further back than our modern movie stars and beauty obsessions.

1. Egypt, 1200 B.C.E.: Post-Mortem Modifications

Catalogue General Antiquites Egyptiennes du Musee du Caire; The Royal Mummies. G. Elliot Smith, 1912. 

The first plastic surgery wasn't done on living beings, but was considered crucial to the Egyptians who were mummified. In the afterlife, the only physical feature believed to be completely retained was the facial structure, but mummification dried the body such that the face was often unrecognizable. Ramses II was known for his elongated nose, so to ensure he would be recognized as a king in the afterlife, bone and seeds were surgically inserted under the skin of his nose after the desiccation of mummification, to restore and exaggerate its original shape.

2. India, 600 B.C.E.: Nose Reconstruction

Science Direct

In an era where cutting off the nose of an adulterer or crook was a common punishment, one doctor sought to encourage forgiveness and decrease public shaming of criminals. Sushruta wrote of many corrective surgeries, including the ear surgery pictured above, in Sushruta Samhita (Sushruta's compendium), but focused on nasal reconstruction. His method involved cutting a flap of skin from the cheek to cover the mutilated area. He then inserted two reeds or tubes, to ensure the nostrils didn't heal closed, rubbed the new nose with an abrasive powder, and dressed it in clean cloth, which irritated it and caused it to start healing. Later Indian surgeons used an attached skin flap from the forehead, which they then rotated down, to cover the mutilated nose.

3. Rome, 1st century B.C.E. -  5th century C.E.: Body Modification

Romans were notorious for their idolization of the perfect body, and viewed congenital and injury-based deformities with suspicion and mockery. Aulus Cornelius Celsus, in De re Medicina (14-37 C.E.), described surgeries that hid scars on the back, reduced gynecomastia (increased breast tissue in males), repaired genital deformities, and used skin flaps to fix nasal and ear-lobe injuries. Celsus' work remained the primary reference guide for plastic surgery for the next 1700 years.

4. Rome, 129-216 C.E.: Eyelid Adjustment and Early Nose Jobs

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Increased obsession with the body during the time of Galen led to even more advances in plastic surgery. Blepharoplasty (adjustment of the eyelids) was used to fix persistently drooping or squinting eyes. There is also evidence that Galen performed aesthetic rhinoplasties on the wealthy, which is the first time purely cosmetic plastic surgery was described. Unfortunately, only 20 of Galen's 600 texts survive, so the procedures he used are not known, and his plastic surgery is only briefly mentioned. 

Between 7th-14th century C.E., the spread of Christianity throughout Europe during the Middle Ages led to surgery being deemed "sinful" and "pagan." The power a surgeon had to spill blood and modify the body was almost akin to magic. This belief was established near the fall of the Roman empire, but was formally declared by Pope Innocent III in the 12th century. Modifying the human body was a punishable offense.

5. Sicily, 1415: The Indian Method to the Italian Method

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Against the law of the church, surgeon Branca de'Branca used the "Indian method" to restore the nose of a man who lost his in a duel. His son Antonio Branca improved upon the method, using a flap of skin from the upper arm to restore the nose. Though it left less scarring, the method required holding the arm behind the head for 20 days, which was incredibly uncomfortable. Antonio's method became known as the "Italian method."

6. Turkey, 1465: Treating Facial Fractures

MuslimHeritage.com

Şerefeddin Sabuncuoğlu published Cerrahiyyet’ül Haniyye (Imperial Medicine) at the age of 80. In addition to being the first illustrated text on pediatric surgery, many of Celsus and Galen's plastic surgery methods were included. Many of the old Greek and Roman texts made their way to the Islamic world, and were preserved despite the attempts to destroy them in Europe. Sabuncuoğlu also illustrated treatment of facial fractures to avoid deformity as they healed.

7. 1597: The Italian Method, Continued

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Gaspare Tagliacozzi wrote Die Curtorum Chiurgia, detailing and illustrating the "Italian method" of nasal reconstruction developed by Antonio Branca. By this point in history, syphilis (and its "cures") had erupted as a major cause of deformity in Europe, and Tagliacozzi made a name for himself reconstructing noses and lips that were destroyed by disease or injury. However, the noses he formed from the skin of the arm did not always "take" well, and would occasionally come off if blown or struck too hard.

8. Europe, 17th-18th centuries: Early Rhinoplasty

Science Museum

Shortly after Tagliacozzi's death, the counterreformation came down harshly on surgery, and it was once again a punishable offense to the Catholic church. Surgery continued in the East, however, and in 1794, two British surgeons residing in India witnessed the "Indian rhinoplasty" being performed on a former prisoner who'd had his nose cut off in punishment. Shortly after continental surgeons began performing this procedure back in Europe, Karl Ferdinand von Graefe published Rhinoplastik. This was the first use of "plastic" in reference to reconstructive surgery, and the first known use of the term "rhinoplasty." Von Graefe used the Indian method for many patients, and developed a method to create a nose on the patient's arm, before transplanting it onto the face. Like Tagliacozzi's method for nasal reconstruction, this nose could come off if blown too hard.

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10. Virginia, USA, 1820s-40s: Reconstructive Surgery

Wiki.UIowa.Edu

John Peter Mettauer and his sons established a thriving practice in Prince Edward County, VA, first specializing in repairing genital anomalies, and later working in all fields of reconstructive surgery. In 1827, John Mettauer performed the first successful hard cleft palate repair in the Americas. The use of "bone flaps" (previously only skin and muscle had been transplanted) was a significant step forward in major reconstructive surgery. The innovative techniques and tools that Dr. Mettauer devised, and a life dedicated to his craft, have led to him being considered "America's first plastic surgeon."

11. London, 1910s-1950s: Reconstructing Facial Features and Sex Change Operations

Harold Gillies and his team at The Queen's Hospital at Sidcup used skin flaps from unaffected parts of the body to reconstruct facial features on soldiers from both World Wars. Harold Gillies also performed one of the first female-to-male sex change operations in 1946, and the first modern male-to-female sex change operation in 1951, using what he learned about pedicles and flaps by reconstructing the faces of soldiers. The "flap" procedure used in the male-to-female operation was the standard for over 40 years.

Sources: National Geographic News; "History of plastic surgery in India." J Postgrad Med 2002;48:76; Aspects of the history of plastic surgery since the 16th century. J Royal Soc Med 1983;76:152 [PDF]; Berke, Andreas; Vogel, Wolfgang. Brief History of Vision and Ocular Medicine;The History of Plastic Surgery; Beautiful Body: A History of Plastic Surgery; BBC; A Sketch of Dr. John Peter Mettauer.

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17 Things to Know About René Descartes
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The French polymath René Descartes (1596-1650) lived after the Renaissance, but he personified that age's interest in mathematics, philosophy, art, and the nature of humanity. He made numerous discoveries and argued for ideas that people continue to grapple with. (His dualist distinction between mind and the brain, for example, continues to be debated by psychologists.) Get to know him better!

1. NOBODY CALLED HIM RENÉ.

Descartes went by a nickname and often introduced himself as “Poitevin” and signed letters as “du Perron.” Sometimes, he went so far to call himself the “Lord of Perron.” That’s because he had inherited a farm from his mother’s family in Poitou, in western France.

2. SCHOOL MADE HIM FEEL DUMBER.

From the age of 11 to 18, Descartes attended one of the best schools in Europe, the Jesuit College of Henry IV in La Flèche, France. In his later work Discourse on the Method, Descartes wrote that, upon leaving school, “I found myself involved in so many doubts and errors, that I was convinced I had advanced no farther in all my attempts at learning, than the discovery at every turn of my own ignorance."

3. HIS DAD WANTED HIM TO BE A LAWYER.

Descartes’s family was chock-full of lawyers, and the budding intellectual was expected to join them. He studied law at the University of Poitiers and even came home with a law degree in 1616. But he never entered the practice. In 1618, a 22-year-old Descartes enlisted as a mercenary in the Dutch States Army instead. There, he would study military engineering and become fascinated with math and physics.

4. HE CHANGED CAREER PATHS THANKS TO A SERIES OF DREAMS.

In 1618, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Ferdinand II, attempted to impose Catholicism on anybody living within his domain. The result of this policy would be the Thirty Years' War. It would also prompt Descartes, a Catholic, to switch allegiances to a Bavarian army fighting for the Catholic side. But on his travels, he stopped in the town of Ulm. There, on the night of November 10, he had three dreams that convinced him to change his life’s path. “Descartes took from them the message that he should set out to reform all knowledge,” philosopher Gary Hatfield writes in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

5. HE COULD BE EASILY DISTRACTED BY BRIGHT AND SHINY OBJECTS.

In 1628, Descartes moved to the Netherlands and spent nine months doggedly working on a theory of metaphysics. Then he got distracted. In 1629, a number of false suns—called parhelia, or “sun dogs”—were seen near Rome. Descartes put his beloved metaphysics treatise on the back burner and devoted his time to explaining the phenomenon. It was a lucky distraction: It led to his work The World, or Treatise on Light.

6. HE LAID THE GROUNDWORK FOR ANALYTIC GEOMETRY ...

In 1637, Descartes published his groundbreaking Discourse on the Method, where he took the revolutionary step of describing lines through mathematical equations. According to Hatfield, “[Descartes] considered his algebraic techniques to provide a powerful alternative to actual compass-and-ruler constructions when the latter became too intricate.” You might have encountered his system in high school algebra: They’re called Cartesian coordinates.

7. ... AND THE REST OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY.

Everybody knows Descartes for his phrase Cogito, ergo sum (which originally appeared in French as "Je pense, donc je suis"), or "I think, therefore I am." The concept appeared in many of his texts. To understand what it means, some context is helpful: At the time, many philosophers claimed that truth was acquired through sense impressions. Descartes disagreed. He argued that our senses are unreliable. An ill person can hallucinate. An amputee can feel phantom limb pain. People are regularly deceived by their own eyes, dreams, and imaginations. Descartes, however, realized that his argument opened a door for "radical doubt": That is, what was stopping people from doubting the existence of, well, everything? The cogito argument is his remedy: Even if you doubt the existence of everything, you cannot doubt the existence of your own mind—because doubting indicates thinking, and thinking indicates existing. Descartes argued that self-evident truths like this—and not the senses—must be the foundation of philosophical investigations.

8. HE'S THE REASON YOUR MATH TEACHER MAKES YOU CHECK YOUR WORK.

Descartes was obsessed with certainty. In his book Rules for the Direction of the Mind, “he sought to generalize the methods of mathematics so as to provide a route to clear knowledge of everything that human beings can know,” Hatfield writes. His advice included this classic chestnut: To solve a big problem, break it up into small, easy-to-understand parts—and check each step often.

9. HE LIKED TO HIDE.

Descartes had a motto, which he took from Ovid: “Who lives well hidden, lives well.” When he moved to the Netherlands, he regularly changed apartments and deliberately kept his address a secret. Some say it's because he simply desired privacy for his philosophical work, or that he was avoiding his disapproving family. In his book titled Descartes, philosopher A. C. Grayling makes another suggestion: "Descartes was a spy."

10. HE WASN'T AFRAID OF CRITICS. IN FACT, HE RE-PUBLISHED THEM.

When Descartes was revising his Meditations on First Philosophy [PDF], he planned to send the manuscript to “the 20 or 30 most learned theologians” for criticism—a sort of proto-peer review. He collected seven objections and published them in the work. (Descartes, of course, had the last word: He responded to each criticism.)

11. HE COULD THROW SHADE WITH THE BEST OF THEM.

In the 1640s, Descartes’s pupil and friend Henricus Regius published a broadsheet that distorted Descartes’s theory of the mind. (Which, put briefly, posits that the material body and immaterial mind are separate and distinct.) The two men had a falling out, and Descartes wrote a rebuttal with a barbed title that refused to even acknowledge Regius’s manifesto by name: It was simply called “Comments on a Certain Broadsheet.”

12. HE NEVER BELIEVED MONKEYS COULD TALK.

There’s a “fun fact” parading around that suggests Descartes believed monkeys and apes could talk. He believed no such thing. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Descartes denied that animals were even conscious, let alone capable of speech. The factoid comes from a misreading of a letter Descartes had written in 1646, in which he attributed the belief to “savages.”

13. HE TOTALLY HAD THE HOTS FOR CROSS-EYED WOMEN.

In a letter to Queen Christina of Sweden, Descartes explained that he had a cross-eyed playmate as a child. “I loved a girl of my own age ... who was slightly cross-eyed; by which means, the impression made in my brain when I looked at her wandering eyes was joined so much to that which also occurred when the passion of love moved me, that for a long time afterward, in seeing cross-eyed women, I felt more inclined to love them than others.”

14. WHEN HE MET BLAISE PASCAL, THEY GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT ... ABOUT VACUUMS.

In 1647, a 51-year-old Descartes visited the 24-year-old prodigy and physicist Blaise Pascal. Their meeting quickly devolved into a heated argument over the concept of a vacuum—that is, the idea that air pressure could ever be reduced to zero. (Descartes said it was impossible; Pascal disagreed.) Later, Descartes wrote a letter that, depending on your translation, said that Pascal had “too much vacuum in his head.”

15. HIS WORK WAS BANNED BY THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.

Back in the late 1630s, the theologian Gisbert Voetius had convinced the academic senate of the University of Utrecht to condemn the philosopher’s work. (Descartes was Catholic, but his suggestion that the universe began as a “chaotic soup of particles in motion,” in Hatfield's words, was contrary to orthodox theology.) In the 1660s, his works were placed on the church’s Index of Prohibited Books.

16. HE REGULARLY SLEPT UNTIL NOON (AND TRYING TO BREAK THE HABIT MIGHT HAVE KILLED HIM).

Descartes was not a morning person. He often snoozed 12 hours a night, from midnight until lunchtime. In fact, he worked in bed. (Sleep, he wisely wrote, was a time of “nourishment for the brain.”) But according to the Journal of Historical Neuroscience, he may have had a sleep disorder that helped end his life. A year before his death, Descartes had moved to Stockholm to take a job tutoring Queen Christina, a devoted early-riser who forced Descartes to change his sleep schedule. Some believe the resulting sleep deprivation weakened his immune system and eventually killed him.

17. HIS SKELETON HAS TRAVELED FAR AND WIDE.

Descartes died in Stockholm in 1650 and was buried outside the city. Sixteen years later, his corpse was exhumed and taken to Paris. During the French Revolution, his bones were moved to an Egyptian sarcophagus at the Museum of French Monuments. Decades later, when plans were made to rebury Descartes in an abbey, officials discovered that most of his bones—including his skull—were missing. Shortly after, a Swedish scientist discovered a newspaper advertisement attempting to sell the polymath’s noggin [PDF]. Today, his head is in a collection at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.

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8 Arresting Facts About Scotland Yard
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Jack Taylor, Getty Images

Depicted in fiction for well over a century as the world's premier police force, Scotland Yard might be the most famous banner for law enforcement in history. Though the name itself is officially a term for the location of the London Metropolitan Police headquarters, it’s taken on a colloquial use to describe the collective brain trust of that station’s patrolmen and detectives. Here’s what we’ve deduced about the past, present, and future of this historic—and sometimes controversial—institution.

1. IT GOT ITS NAME FROM A TRICKY BIT OF GEOGRAPHY.

London didn’t have a formal police force until 1829, when Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel arranged for a squad to replace the fractured system of watchmen, street patrols, and the River Police. Colonel Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne were tasked with organizing the force: Mayne’s house at 4 Whitehall Place opened to an adjacent courtyard that had once been a medieval palace that hosted Scottish royalty while they were in London. This “Great Scotland Yard,” which was also reportedly the name of the street behind the building, became synonymous with Rowan and Mayne’s efforts to create a new era in law enforcement.

2. CHARLES DICKENS TAGGED ALONG ON PATROLS.

Author Charles Dickens poses for a photo
London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

The renowned author of Great Expectations and other literary classics wasn’t a policeman, but he did perform the 19th-century equivalent of a ride-along. Dickens was friends with Charles Frederick Field, a Scotland Yard inspector, and their relationship led to Dickens occasionally accompanying patrolmen on their nightly rounds. He even based a character in his novel Bleak House on Fields.

3. THERE WERE DIRTY COPS AMONG THE RANKS IN THOSE EARLY DAYS.

For all of the public acceptance of Scotland Yard—Londoners were initially wary of the plainclothes cops walking among them—the squad suffered a sensational blow to its image in 1877. Known as the “Turf Fraud Scandal” or the “Trial of the Detectives,” the controversy erupted after a Parisian socialite named Madame de Goncourt was conned by two men named Harry Benson and William Kurr. Scotland Yard inspector Nathaniel Druscovich was dispatched to Amsterdam to capture a fleeing Benson while others pursued Kurr. The men proved surprisingly elusive, which prompted suspicion among Scotland Yard officials. When the two con men were finally arrested, they explained that an inspector named John Meiklejohn was taking bribes in exchange for tipping off Kurr to police activity. Two other policemen were implicated; the three each received two years in prison. The high-profile breach led to a reorganization, with the Yard inserting detectives into a new Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to help minimize misconduct.

4. THEY HELPED PIONEER FINGERPRINTING.

A Scotland Yard employee examines fingerprints
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

At one time, the science of fingerprinting was more of a theory than anything that could be put into practice. Most police forces instead relied on anthropometry, a system created by French police officer Alphonse Bertillon, which used 11 body measurements taken by calipers to provide a unique physical identity for an individual. While fingerprinting was beginning to take off in India in the late 1800s, the English-speaking world didn’t adopt the forensic technique of lifting and matching prints until 1901, when Sir Edward Henry, then the assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard, instituted the Metropolitan Police Fingerprint Bureau. In 1902, a billiard ball thief was convicted based on a fingerprint he left on a windowsill. In 1904, a Yard detective demonstrated the efficacy of fingerprinting at the St. Louis World’s Fair, helping spread the new science to American law enforcement officials.

5. THEIR PATROL OFFICERS DIDN’T CARRY GUNS UNTIL 1994.

The uniformed police officers who wander London’s streets with an eye on keeping the peace were unarmed for most of the 20th century. It wasn’t until 1994 that select patrol officers were permitted to carry guns, a policy shift that stemmed from increased assaults on police. The addition of firearms was limited to armed response cars intended to be dispatched to high-risk calls; previously, officers were instructed to keep their weapons in a lockbox inside their vehicles. Today, 90 percent of Metropolitan police officers go on duty without a gun, a policy largely maintained in response to a relatively low number of guns carried by civilians. Less than four in 100 British citizens own a firearm.

6. THEY HAVE A SQUAD OF “SUPER RECOGNIZERS.”

A surveillance camera is posted in London
Leon Neal, AFP/Getty Images

With surveillance cameras dotting London, facial recognition for identifying criminal suspects is in high demand. But no software can outperform Scotland Yard’s team of “super recognizers,” who are recruited for their ability to match a face to a name based on their own memory. These officers are hired by administering a facial recognition test first implemented by Harvard in 2009. Those in the top percentile have an uncanny ability to retain facial feature details and are often dispatched to cull out known criminals like pickpockets at public gatherings. One such specialist, Constable Gary Collins, identified 180 people out of 4000 while examining footage of the 2011 London riots. Software was able to identify exactly one.

7. THEY KEEP A SECRET CRIME MUSEUM HIDDEN FROM THE PUBLIC.

Housed across two floors at the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police in London is the Black Museum, a macabre cavalcade of evidence from nearly 150 years of investigative work. Established in 1875, the collection houses body parts (gallstones that failed to dissolve in acid along with the rest of a murder victim) and seemingly innocuous items that take on sinister connotations: A set of pots and pans that once belonged to Scottish serial killer Dennis Nilsen and were used to boil human flesh. It’s closed to the public, though visiting law enforcement and sometimes celebrities can secure an invite: Laurel and Hardy and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have toured its inventory. A sample of the collection went on display at the Museum of London in 2015.  

8. YOU COULD LIVE THERE ONE DAY.

The former New Scotland Yard building at 10 Broadway
Jack Taylor, AFP/Getty Images

The Metropolitan Police have changed locations several times over the years. It was situated at its original location of 4 Whitehall Place from 1829 to 1890, then housed in a large Victorian building on the Victoria Embankment from 1890 until 1967. That’s when the operation was moved to a 600,000 square-foot building at 10 Broadway in Westminster: a famous revolving sign announced a New Scotland Yard was taking up residence. In 2014, the building was sold to investors from Abu Dhabi for $580 million: London cited operating expenses and budget cuts as the reasons for the sale. The buyers plan to mount a residential housing project in the spot. Scotland Yard staff moved to a trimmed-down facility at the Curtis Green Building in Westminster and within walking distance of the Houses of Parliament.   

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