by John

I recently had a light globe switched on in my brain.

I was holidaying in Athens (the one in Greece), and was gobsmacked by the huge, fabulous collection of statues, mosaics, ceramics, gold jewellery and masks, bronze and iron weapons in the National Archeological Museum.   I took many photos, and might post some in later blogs.

Three items sent shivers down my spine.

  1. The gold death mask of Agamemnon (probably not Agamemnon’s but that is another story).
  2. The Antikythera machine.   More about that in a future post.
  3. A gynaecological speculum.

There was a display with many surgical instruments.  These have been found at various archeological digs in Greece, and while not precisely dated (at least not labelled) they are mostly from 500-200 BCE.

My eye was immediately drawn to an instrument which looked very familiar.  I was a gynaecologist in my previous life, and this could have come from my instruments. (except that the dark bronze surface might not have been acceptable to patients).


Not a great photo, through a glass cover, and ISO cranked up to several thousand.

The instrument is labelled a vaginal dilator, but I am quite certain that it is a vaginal speculum.  A speculum is used to inspect the vaginal walls and uterine cervix.  (That might be too much information my metal working/ engine making/ machinery minded readers.  If so, too bad.)

It is said to be made of bronze.  The Ancient Greeks were highly skilled at metal casting, as evidenced by the many complex and beautiful bronze statues and weapons and implements on display.

It interested me for several reasons.  Bear in mind that not many archeology museum visitors are gynaecologists who know about making threads in metal.

It looks quite functional, and if cleaned up, given a shiny surface and sterilized it could be used today.

The threaded section is very regular and smooth.  I would loved to have taken some measurements of the thread with a micrometer, but had to be content with a prolonged inspection through the glass case.  The thread appears to me to be so regular, that it could not have been hand filed.  It must have been machine made.  I have seen hand made threads on medieval machines, and they are crude compared with this one.

Either this is not an ancient Greek instrument but a more modern instrument accidentally included in the display (pretty unlikely, considering the professionalism of the people involved).  (ps.  If you Google Pompeii speculum, you will see that similar instruments have been unearthed at Pompeii…  buried since 79ce.)

Or…..  the ancient Greeks had screw cutting lathes.

Ridiculous you say?

Wait until my next post about the Antikythera machine.  If if you just cannot wait, look it up.   It is mind blowing.