As our current exhibition in UCL’s north cloisters demonstrates, “foreign bodies” may take many forms, as well as being continually redefined throughout history.
Five cases in which a piece of elm bark was used have been reported in detail previously, and in all of these the body has remained undiscovered for some time, until its removal suprapubically after calculus formation had taken place, causing symptoms leading to its discovery. Called “slippery” elm because when it gets wet it becomes slippery, this type of elm bark has traditionally been used to cause early uterine contractions and induce labor. Accidental or intentional abortion occurred with a lot greater frequency in the 19th and early 20th centuries than some might imagine, and was inextricably wrapped up with both the idea and concrete reality of “foreign bodies.” For many, the coat hanger is the ultimate symbol of a foreign body inserted into the uterus to cause abortion.
Such examples abound in medical literature, and Victorian and Edwardian gynaecologists, obstetricians, and surgeons spoke of them with little or no censure.
When I first began my doctoral research into tattoo preservation three and a half years ago, I assumed that tattoo collections such as those held by the Science Museum in London were rare.
In anatomy and pathology collections, tattoo specimens tend to be wet-preserved and date more recently, usually from the early part of the 20th century anywhere up to around the 1980s. From a man aged 79 years who had earned his living for many years as the Tattooed Man in a circus. It would be equally impossible to know whether or not these were the only tattoos he possessed – or indeed, if they all necessarily belonged to the same person. Many people will be familiar with the kind of insect specimen displays that are a staple of natural history collections – the old 19th century museum cases containing neat rows of pinned and mounted moths and butterflies, neatly organised according to subspecies and morphological characteristics. There is no part of the body able to register the history of a life lived so much as the skin: wrinkles, scars and lines all map out our lives on the surface of our bodies as we age.
We know sadly little about the sword swallower’s sword that resides in the UCL Pathology Collection: not even how long it has been here. Sword swallowing seemingly originated in India some 4,000 years ago, but reached the western world of Ancient Greece and Rome in the first century AD. For example, one swallower lacerated his pharynx when trying to swallow a curved sabre, a second lacerated his oesophagus and developed pleurisy after being distracted by a misbehaving macaw on his shoulder, and a belly dancer suffered a major haemorrhage when a bystander pushed dollar bills into her belt causing three blades in her oesophagus to scissor. In many ways, sword swallowing is the opposite of the ingestion of other foreign bodies: rather than swallowing, the performer maintains absolute control over the process of consumption, taming the body’s reflexes and realigning the organs.
In an intriguing parallel, the insertion of some foreign objects into the human body thus assisted with the removal of others. UCL Pathology Collections contains many examples of foreign objects removed from thehuman body: this purpose built display showcases many such objects, some withsmall x-rays of the objects prior to removal. X-ray imaging techniques aided the removal of foreign objects by instruments, and foreign body specimens are often accompanied by photographs showing the item’s location in the human body. Chevalier Jackson claimed that his collection of more than two thousand foreign bodies (now housed in Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum) was not a curiosity, but indicative of the everyday nature of foreign body ingestion and inspiration. In most instances, we can uncover little about the motivations of those in the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose foreign bodies are recorded in medical records: surgeons were often little interested in how the object came to be in its current location, but only in its removal. In preparation for our upcoming exhibition, Foreign Bodies, several members of the engagement team went to visit UCL Pathology Collections, to have a look at a collection of foreign objects removed from the human body. The UCL Pathology Collections comprise over 6,000 specimens dating back to around 1850, many of which have been absorbed from other London medical institutions over the past 25 years, and these are currently in the process of being re-catalogued and conserved. As with many historical pathology collections, UCL possesses its share of medical anomalies or curiosities.
The specimen shown here (right) is a dermoid cyst, or cystic teratoma, which has formed inside an ovary. The toothed vagina motif, so prominent in North American Indian mythology, is also found in the Chaco and the Guianas. Many 19th and 20th century European interpretations linked the motif to Freudian concepts of castration anxiety, in which young males are said to experience an unconscious fear of castration upon seeing female genitalia. Undeterred by his father’s grave warnings, Maui sets off on his quest with a gathering of bird companions.
There was a Baiga girl who looked so fierce and angry, as if there was magic in her, that for all her beauty, no one dared to marry her. Over the course of the past 3 years working on the history of preserved tattooed human skin, I have frequently met with difficult questions: Material and conservation concerns pose the question how were they preserved? Ilse Koch was the wife of Karl Otto Koch,Kommandant of the Buchenwald and Madjanekconcentration camps.
The Nazis did not just collect the tattoos of prisoners as grotesque trophies of war, however – they also used tattooing as a weapon of dehumanization and control. I was offered by various surgeons to remove it, and they were very glad to do it, but I wanted to keep it on. Tattoos carry with them a powerful capacity to evoke memory, and this quality is often a motivating factor for many people who choose to become tattooed with marks commemorating important life events or rites of passage. You are not authorized to see this partPlease, insert a valid App IDotherwise your plugin won't work. Putting it simply, the term “foreign body” in medicine usually refers to an external object introduced into the body that isn’t supposed to be there.
The bark is inserted into the cervix where it then absorbs water and expands, dilating the cervix and triggering contractions. Still others may think of obstetric forceps as the foreign body which has caused thousands of fetal deaths during delivery. This particular specimen belongs to UCL Pathology Collections, and is currently on display in the Foreign Bodies exhibition.
Whilst collections of inked human skin are most definitely unusual, I was soon surprised and intrigued to discover that such objects exist in almost every museum archive, university anatomy department, or pathology collection that I have visited over the course of my research. These particular tattoos belonged to one individual, whose very brief case notes have been recorded and retained along with the specimen in UCL Pathology Collections. His entire body, except for the head and neck, hands and soles of his feet, was covered with elaborate tattoo designs.
This demonstrates that although tattoo ink is trapped permanently under the skin following healing, it does actually travel within the body over time, filtering into the body’s tissue drainage system, and collecting in the lymph glands.
There are strong stylistic similarities between the butterfly motifs, suggesting the work of a single tattooist, or perhaps that the individual motifs were part of a larger design. The tattoo reinforces this unique capacity of the skin to record the traces of our experience, in the conscious act of permanently inscribing memory in skin.
The performer tilts his or her head back, extending the neck, and learning to relax muscles that usually move involuntarily.
As Mary Cappello notes in her fascinating literary biography of surgeon Chevalier Jackson (1865 – 1968), who was an expert in foreign body removal, sword swallowing was recognised by doctors as inspirational to their own techniques.
At the turn of the 20th century, the removal of foreign bodies lodged in the throat and airways frequently required an incision to be made into the trachea or oesophagus, an operation which could prove fatal. The above set of items is found in the UCL Pathology Collection, the objects having been gathered by several surgeons in the 1920s – ‘50s.


It is a fascinating, not to mention an educationally invaluable collection – not least because it contains many specimens that demonstrate gross clinical manifestations of diseases which are now very rare in the Western world. Fragments of preserved skin belonging to a tattooed man certainly seem to fall into the category of the anatomically curious – there is certainly nothing pathological about this specimen.
I was immediately struck by the parallels between this specimen and the image of the vagina dentata.
The first men in the world were unable to have sexual relationships with their wives until the culture hero broke the teeth of the women’s vaginas (Chaco). Whilst a Freudian analysis is undoubtedly culturally and historically specific, many vagina dentata legends explicitly articulate male fears of castration in the act of normal sexual intercourse, and warn of the necessity of removing the teeth from women’s vaginas, in order to transform her into a nonthreatening and marriageable sexual partner.
In some traditions, the terrible power of the vagina dentata lies principally not in fears of the sexual act, but in its associations with death. Her body is like a woman’s, but the pupils of her eyes are greenstone and her hair is kelp. This is certainly the case for tattoos collected during the late 19th century by physicians and criminologists, who studied the tattoos of criminals and military personnel in prisons, barracks and hospitals. Reports emerged from Buchenwald of the manufacture of everyday items such as gloves, knife sheaths, book-bindings and lampshades from the skins of murdered inmates.[1] In particular, stories of the collection of tattooed human skin, removed from the bodies of inmates at the behest of Ilse Koch, the wife of Kommandant Karl Otto Koch, caused a scandal in the Allied press. From May 1940, prisoner numbers were introduced for all concentration camp prisoners deemed capable of work at the Auschwitz concentration camp complex – those sent directly to the gas chambers were not registered and did not receive numbers.
One of these women was Holocaust survivor Henia Bryer, who was liberated from Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945.
For those, like Henia, who have been forcibly tattooed, the mark may come to stand as testament to a personal and collective history of suffering and survival. Over the past 25 years, UCL pathology collections have absorbed a number of collections belonging to other London medical institutions. Both the artworks together in one tattoo resemble endless love for one’s special one.
Needless to say, this procedure was not always successful and could cause life-threatening infections. The anonymous woman patient underwent a hysterectomy most likely sometime in the early 20th century, in order to remove the sizable uterine fibroid, which can be seen on the right side of the image. The feotus was sometimes viewed as a necessary casualty in removing a potentially life-threatening fibroid. The largest collections, of which the Wellcome Collection is the major exemplar, are dry-preserved and date from the 19th century – similar collections can be found across Europe, and the MNHN in Paris has a collection of 56 tattoos which are very similar to those in the Wellcome collection. There is of course nothing pathological about tattooed skin in itself – so it seems strange that specimens like the one pictured below are displayed alongside other pathological skin specimens such as cutaneous anthrax, fibromas, keloids and glanders. He died of peritonitis due to a perforation of an anastomatic ulcer … In tattooing, fine particles of pigment are introduced through the skin, taken up by histiocytes and become lodged in the tissue spaces of the dermis.
Whilst this is certainly an interesting anatomical observation, it is not the pigmented lymph glands that the doctor has chosen to preserve, but rather the tattooed skin itself. But just how large or complex the design may have been, we certainly cannot tell just by looking at these 5 small tattoos. Unusually for specimens found in pathology collections, this support is a slightly translucent black. The pathologist, uniquely acquainted with death by virtue of their specialism, is perhaps best positioned amongst medical professionals to appreciate the peculiar relationship of the tattoo with mortality.
A rigid weapon can then be passed down as far as the stomach, usually for just a few seconds, before removal. Jackson took his lead from German professors Alfred Kirstein and Gustav Killian, who lectured that sword swallowing proved the possibility of passing a rigid tube into the oesophagus, in order to remove lodged objects. In the records of the Royal London Hospital, from 1890 to 1910, we find no mention of oesophagoscopy or bronchoscopy: instead, surgery or the probang or “coin-catcher” was the norm. At some point, the individual boxes made for each specimen were mounted together, in a specially designed plastic surround. The two boxes of multiple objects in the bottom right, for example, were removed from the vaginas of young girls (six and eight years old respectively).
Some of these diseases, such as syphilis, are unfortunately making a comeback, so it seems more important than ever that medical students are able to recognise the clinical signs of these infections. One of the biggest surprises I encountered during my visit to the collections, was the revelation that the female reproductive anatomy can, and occasionally does, grow teeth.
Up to 300 teeth have been found in one cyst … Long bones, digits, fingernails, and skull have been found. I am not the first to make such an observation,[2] and whilst I am not suggesting that there is any explanatory relationship to be found between the biological phenomena and the myths, it is certainly an intriguing association.
According to the Waspishiana and Taruma Indians the first woman had a carnivorous fish inside her vagina.
Her mouth is that of a barracuda, and in the place where men enter her she has sharp teeth of obsidian and greenstone. But his bird companions are so struck by the absurdity of his actions, that they laugh out loud and wake Hine-nui-te-po from her slumber. The criminals, soldiers and common men in these institutions very likely did not give consent for their tattoos to be excised and preserved after death; a practice that was rarely questioned during the late 19th century.
Although photographs documenting some of these objects were taken when the camps were liberated, no other material evidence of them was recovered to be entered into Koch’s trial at Dachau in 1947, or later at her second trial at Augsburg in 1950. For other Holocaust survivors, these marks became unwelcome reminders of trauma, and were removed by surgeons after the war.
Many Nazi records were destroyed at the end of the war, and the many thousands of files that do remain are scattered across Europe – even today, it is difficult to trace the identities of inmates based on their tattooed prisoner numbers. A large number of the pathology specimens received by UCL arrived in a state of neglect, requiring intensive conservation and re-cataloguing – a task made all the more difficult for the lack of associated documentation. Sarah Chaney notes in her recent blog post, some of the most common foreign objects uncovered from the bodies of 19th and early 20th century patients were coins, safety pins, buttons and needles. How many abortions have they caused, and can they be regarded as foreign bodies if they are naturally occurring? However, on closer examination of the image, we see on the left side a preserved feotus, frozen in development, somewhere between 8-11 weeks. Either way, be it by slippery elm, by accident, or with purposeful intent, the feotus was removed as a foreign body, like any other.
Historically, these collections may be medical, anthropological, or criminological in origin. We know that they belonged to a 79-year-old man, who made his living as a Tattooed Man, only because the doctor tells us so.
This appears to be a deliberate choice on the part of the pathologist – the black perspex provides a contrasting ground for the display of tattoos on opposite sides of the vitrine, such that they do not visually detract from one another.


It is a trace of the subjectivity of the deceased that is capable of outliving them, akin to a photograph or written memoir. It is dangerous, certainly, but few performers suffer the fate of the individual preserved in the UCL collections. Jackson, who developed his own oesophagoscope in 1890, admitted that the abilities of circus performers had opened his eyes to the opportunity of removing foreign objects without dangerous surgery.
This latter instrument was generally a simple hook, inserted without any kind of viewing device or illumination.
Pathology collections are a highly valuable medical teaching resource; particularly since these kinds of collections are now unlikely to be expanded in the wake of the 2004 Human Tissue Act. Despite the ominous name, however, ovarian teratomas are usually benign, and arise from totipotent stem cells which are capable of developing into any type of body cell. Brain tissue and its derivatives, intestinal loops, thyroid tissue, eyes, salivary glands, may occasionally be found.
When Maui asks his father what his ancestress Hine-nui-te-po is like, he responds by pointing to the icy mountains beneath the fiery clouds of sunset. For those readers interested in the practical removal of teratomas such as those discussed here, a demonstration of the surgical procedure can be viewed in this educational film (contains scenes of graphic live surgery). After a time she grew so beautiful that the landlord of the village determined to marry her on the condition that she allowed four of his servants to have intercourse with her first. Without material proof, Koch could not be convicted of the charges relating to the human skin objects.
However, as the daily mortality rate increased and clothes were removed, this soon proved impractical as a way of identifying the dead. Specimens such as the one pictured above may make us uneasy, particularly when they are unprovenanced and inherited. A uterine fibroid is a benign tumour of the uterus, commonly found in women of reproductive age.
By examining the medical establishment’s attitudes towards fibroid removal we catch a glimpse into one way the feotus, and the experience of pregnancy in general, was understood in the past. He or she also tells us that his body was covered in tattoos – yet only 5 small pieces have been preserved.
These aesthetic choices suggest a nuanced interest in the collection and display of these specimens, which goes far beyond a straightforward medical interest in the anatomy of the tattoo. Whatever the case, the sword pierced the flexible tube of the oesophagus, leading to the performer’s death. The practitioner would feel blindly for the object, and either attempt to hook it out, or push it into the stomach. Even rudimentary fetuses have been described, such as a pelvis with hairy pubes and a vulva and clitoris. To this she agreed, and the landlord first sent a Brahmin to her  – and he lost his penis. Their histories are lost and fraught with ethical entanglements – but they cannot simply be discarded, and perhaps should not be hidden away.
Medical instruments or tools, for example, were on occasion accidentally lost inside the patient’s body during an operation. For many of the women who mistakenly inserted the slippery elm into their bladders, there the bark most likely stayed, unless a severe medical problem compelled them to seek medical attention.
Most fibroids are asymptomatic and therefore, most women are never aware that they even have one. Five carefully selected motifs, chosen by the doctor from an already complete collection, which provided the livelihood and told the life story of one unnamed man. From the limited case notes and analysis of the specimen itself, we can learn something about the pathologist’s interest in the tattoo, but we are still no closer to being able to answer the fundamental question – why collect tattoos at all? The heart and oesophagus were preserved – perhaps as a warning of the dangers of such feats – alongside the weapon that led to his demise.
In her research into the medical histories of Jewish immigrants to the East End of London in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Carole Reeves came across a case of multiple foreign body insertion in a young woman, whose vagina was found to be tightly packed with pins. Tattoos were applied to either the inner or outer side of the left forearm on registration at the camp. Henia reminds us of the need to remember past trauma, and of the role that material culture can play in this process.
No doubt for many of the women attempting to self-abort, their experience with slippery elm was less than satisfactory and could have proven fatal.
However, on occasion these fibroids can cause health complications or interfere with pregnancy.
What selection criteria did the pathologist adopt when deciding which tattoos to preserve, and which to consign to the grave?
In 1903, surgeons at the Royal London attempted to remove a halfpenny from the throat of a five-year-old boy by pushing it into the stomach. To offer a warning to others to take care (particularly parents, for all these objects were removed from children and infants)?
However, it was neither pins, mints or instruments which were the subject of a 1939 article in the British Medical Journal devoted entirely to foreign bodies. Before the advances of late 19th century abdominal surgery and gynecology, uterine fibroids were not treatable.
The manner in which the specimens have been excised and mounted are strikingly reminiscent of a lepidopterist‘s collection of butterflies – could this reflect the personal collecting interests of the pathologist, or perhaps even the Tattooed Man himself? The Gond held the girl down, and the Baiga thrust his flint into her vagina and knocked out one of the teeth. Both the pathologist and Tattooed Man alike chose these butterflies – did they also share a passion for lepidoptery? The girl wept with the pain, but she was consoled when the landlord came in and said he would now marry her immediately. George’s Hospital, zeroed in on one particular foreign body that was with some frequency discovered in the female bladder: slippery elm bark.
In fact, it is still used by women to induce abortion today.[1] Writing on elm bark as a foreign body inside the bladder, Dr.



Design of tattoo names 2014
Celebrity knuckle tattoos


Comments to «Butterfly tattoos made from footprints quote»

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