The University Record, September 10, 1997

Surgeons use Stone Age technology for delicate surgery

Green holds one of the obsidian knives he uses to remove moles or for delicate repairs to earlobes. Photo courtesy Medical Center Public Relations

While they probably never practiced the art of surgery, our Paleolithic ancestors did use tools that have been extolled as more precise than the most modern metal scalpel.

Lee A. Green, associate professor of family practice at the Medical Center, uses obsidian knives for removing moles and repairing torn earlobes. The black volcanic glass is up to 100 times sharper and much smoother than stainless steel scalpels.

Obsidian has been used as a cutting tool since the Stone Age, but modern versions of obsidian scalpels are manufactured by a Virginia archaeologist using a pressure flaking process. Each knife can be used from 10 to 20 times before being discarded, Green says. He keeps his blades in a cold sterilizing solution to preserve their sharpness.

"I like the obsidian knife because it traumatizes the tissue less," he says. "It is very sharp and very smooth at the microscopic level." Green says he first learned of the knives in a brief article carried by Scientific American a few years ago and has wanted a set ever since.

Green says that he knows of no other surgeons in the area who use the same blades, but that there are now a few dozen nationally who use the Stone Age technology for surgery in cosmetically sensitive areas.