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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


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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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6 East Coast Castles to Visit for a Fairy Tale Road Trip
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Once the stuff of fairy tales and legends, a variety of former castles have been repurposed today as museums and event spaces. Enough of them dot the East Coast that you can plan a summer road trip to visit half a dozen in a week or two, starting in or near New York City. See our turrent-rich itinerary below.

STOP 1: BANNERMAN CASTLE // BEACON, NEW YORK

59 miles from New York City

The crumbling exterior of Bannerman Castle
Garrett Ziegler, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Bannerman Castle can be found on its very own island in the Hudson River. Although the castle has fallen into ruins, the crumbling shell adds visual interest to the stunning Hudson Highlands views, and can be visited via walking or boat tours from May to October. The man who built the castle, Scottish immigrant Frank Bannerman, accumulated a fortune shortly after the Civil War in his Brooklyn store known as Bannerman’s. He eventually built the Scottish-style castle as both a residence and a military weapons storehouse starting in 1901. The island remained in his family until 1967, when it was given to the Taconic Park Commission; two years later it was partially destroyed by a mysterious fire, which led to its ruined appearance.

STOP 2. GILLETTE CASTLE STATE PARK // EAST HADDAM, CONNECTICUT

116 miles from Beacon, New York

William Gillette was an actor best known for playing Sherlock Holmes, which may have something to do with where he got the idea to install a series of hidden mirrors in his castle, using them to watch guests coming and going. The unusual-looking stone structure was built starting in 1914 on a chain of hills known as the Seven Sisters. Gillette designed many of the castle’s interior features (which feature a secret room), and also installed a railroad on the property so he could take his guests for rides. When he died in 1937 without designating any heirs, his will forbade the possession of his home by any "blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” The castle is now managed by the State of Connecticut as Gillette Castle State Park.

STOP 3. BELCOURT CASTLE // NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND

74 miles from East Haddam, Connecticut

The exterior of Belcourt castle
Jenna Rose Robbins, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Prominent architect Richard Morris Hunt designed Belcourt Castle for congressman and socialite Oliver Belmont in 1891. Hunt was known for his ornate style, having designed the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, but Belmont had some unusual requests. He was less interested in a building that would entertain people and more in one that would allow him to spend time with his horses—the entire first floor was designed around a carriage room and stables. Despite its grand scale, there was only one bedroom. Construction cost $3.2 million in 1894, a figure of approximately $80 million today. But around the time it was finished, Belmont was hospitalized following a mugging. It took an entire year before he saw his completed mansion.

STOP 4. HAMMOND CASTLE MUSEUM // GLOUCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS

111 miles from Newport, Rhode Island

Part of the exterior of Hammond castle
Robert Linsdell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. built his medieval-style castle between 1926 and 1929 as both his home and a showcase for his historical artifacts. But Hammond was not only interested in recreating visions of the past; he also helped shape the future. The castle was home to the Hammond Research Corporation, from which Hammond produced over 400 patents and came up with the ideas for over 800 inventions, including remote control via radio waves—which earned him the title "the Father of Remote Control." Visitors can take a self-guided tour of many of the castle’s rooms, including the great hall, indoor courtyard, Renaissance dining room, guest bedrooms, inventions exhibit room, library, and kitchens.

STOP 5. BOLDT CASTLE // ALEXANDRIA BAY, THOUSAND ISLANDS, NEW YORK

430 miles from Gloucester, Massachusetts

It's a long drive from Gloucester and only accessible by water, but it's worth it. The German-style castle on Heart Island was built in 1900 by millionaire hotel magnate George C. Boldt, who created the extravagant structure as a summer dream home for his wife Louise. Sadly, she passed away just months before the place was completed. The heartbroken Boldt stopped construction, leaving the property empty for over 70 years. It's now in the midst of an extensive renovation, but the ballroom, library, and several bedrooms have been recreated, and the gardens feature thousands of plants.

STOP 6. FONTHILL CASTLE // DOYLESTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA

327 miles from Alexandria Bay, New York

Part of the exterior of Fonthill castle

In the mood for more castles? Head south to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where Fonthill Castle was the home of the early 20th century American archeologist, anthropologist, and antiquarian Henry Chapman Mercer. Mercer was a man of many interests, including paleontology, tile-making, and architecture, and his interest in the latter led him to design Fonthill Castle as a place to display his colorful tile and print collection. The inspired home is notable for its Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles, and with 44 rooms, there's plenty of well-decorated nooks and crannies to explore.

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7 Famous People Researchers Want to Exhume
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This week, the surrealist painter Salvador Dali is being exhumed from his grave in Figueres, northeastern Spain, where he has lain beneath the stage of a museum since his death in 1989. Researchers hope to collect DNA from his skeleton in order to settle a paternity suit brought by a tarot card reader named Pilar Abel, who claims that her mother had an affair with the artist while working as a maid in the seaside town where the Dalis vacationed. If the claim is substantiated, Abel may inherit a portion of the $325 million estate that Dali, who was thought to be childless, bequeathed to the Spanish state upon his death.

The grave opening may seem like a fittingly surreal turn of events, but advances in DNA research and other scientific techniques have recently led to a rise in exhumations. In the past few years (not to mention months), serial killer H. H. Holmes, poet Pablo Neruda, astronomer Tycho Brahe, and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, among many others, have all been dug up either to prove that the right man went to his grave—or to verify how he got there. Still, there are a number of other bodies that scientists, historians, and other types of researchers want to exhume to answer questions about their lives and deaths. Read on for a sampling of such cases.

1. LEONARDO DA VINCI

An international team of art historians and scientists is interested in exhuming Leonardo da Vinci's body to perform a facial reconstruction on his skull, learn about his diet, and search for clues to his cause of death, which has never been conclusively established. They face several obstacles, however—not the least of which is that da Vinci's grave in France's Loire Valley is only his presumed resting place. The real deal was destroyed during the French Revolution, although a team of 19th century amateur archaeologists claimed to have recovered the famed polymath's remains and reinterred them in a nearby chapel. For now, experts at the J. Craig Venter Institute in California are working on a technique to extract DNA from some of da Vinci's paintings (he was known to smear pigment with his fingers as well as brushes), which they hope to compare with living relatives and the remains in the supposed grave.

2. MERIWETHER LEWIS

A portrait of Meriwether Lewis
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

As one half of Lewis and Clark, Meriwether Lewis is one of America's most famous explorers, but his death belongs to a darker category—famous historical mysteries. Researchers aren't sure exactly what happened on the night of October 10, 1809, when Lewis stopped at a log cabin in Tennessee on his way to Washington, D.C. to settle some financial issues. By the next morning, Lewis was dead, a victim either of suicide (he was known to be suffering from depression, alcoholism, and possibly syphilis) or murder (the cabin was in an area rife with bandits; a corrupt army general may have been after his life). Beginning in the 1990s, descendants and scholars applied to the Department of the Interior for permission to exhume Lewis—his grave is located on National Park Service Land—but were eventually denied. Whatever secrets Lewis kept, he took them to his grave.

3. SHAKESPEARE

A black and white portrait of Shakespeare
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Shakespeare made his thoughts on exhumation very clear—he placed a curse on his tombstone that reads: "Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare/ To digg the dust encloased heare/ Bleste be the man that spares thes stones/ And curst be he that moves my bones." Of course, that hasn't stopped researchers wanting to try. After Richard III's exhumation, one South African academic called for a similar analysis on the Bard's bones, with hopes of finding new information on his diet, lifestyle, and alleged predilection for pot. And there may be another reason to open the grave: A 2016 study using ground-penetrating radar found that the skeleton inside appeared to be missing a skull.

4. JOHN WILKES BOOTH

A black and white photograph of John Wilkes Booth
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The events surrounding Abraham Lincoln's death in 1865 are some of the best-known in U.S. history, but the circumstances of his assassin's death are a little more murky. Though most historical accounts say that John Wilkes Booth was cornered and shot in a burning Virginia barn 12 days after Lincoln's murder, several researchers and some members of his family believe Booth lived out the rest of his life under an assumed name before dying in Oklahoma in 1903. (The corpse of the man who died in 1903—thought by most people to be a generally unremarkable drifter named David E. George—was then embalmed and displayed at fairgrounds.) Booth's corpse has already been exhumed from its grave at Baltimore's Greenmount Cemetery and verified twice, but some would like another try. In 1994, two researchers and 22 members of Booth's family filed a petition to exhume the body once again, but a judge denied the request, finding little compelling evidence for the David E. George theory. Another plan, to compare DNA from Edwin Booth to samples of John Wilkes Booth's vertebrae held at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, has also come to naught.

5. NAPOLEON

A portrait of Napoleon
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Napoleon has already been exhumed once: in 1840, when his body was moved from his burial-in-exile on St. Helena to his resting place in Paris's Les Invalides. But some researchers allege that that tomb in Paris is a sham—it's not home to the former emperor, but to his butler. The thinking goes that the British hid the real Napoleon's body in Westminster Abbey to cover up neglect or poisoning, offering a servant's corpse for internment at Les Invalides. France's Ministry of Defense was not amused by the theory, however, and rejected a 2002 application to exhume the body for testing.

6. HENRY VIII

A portrait of Henry VIII
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In his younger years, the Tudor monarch Henry VIII was known to be an attractive, accomplished king, but around age 40 he began to spiral into a midlife decline. Research by an American bioarchaeologist and anthropologist pair in 2010 suggested that the king's difficulties—including his wives' many miscarriages—may have been caused by an antigen in his blood as well as a related genetic disorder called McLeod syndrome, which is known to rear its head around age 40. Reports in the British press claimed the researchers wanted to exhume the king's remains for testing, although his burial at George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle means they will need to get the Queen’s permission for any excavation. For now, it's just a theory.

7. GALILEO

A portrait of Galileo
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The famed astronomer has had an uneasy afterlife. Although supporters hoped to give him an elaborate burial at the Basilica of Santa Croce, he spent about 100 years in a closet-sized room there beneath the bell tower. (He was moved to a more elaborate tomb in the basilica once the memory of his heresy conviction had faded.) More recently, British and Italian scientists have said they want to exhume his body for DNA tests that could contribute to an understanding of the problems he suffered with his eyesight—problems that may have led him to make some famous errors, like saying Saturn wasn't round. The Vatican will have to sign off on any exhumation, however, so it may be a while.

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