The Devouring Element: Lead’s Impact on Health

Lead serves no biological purpose in the human body, but since antiquity people have ingested, applied, and attempted to cure themselves of disorders with lead. The Devouring Element explored the consequences of people’s evolution alongside lead and its harmful effect on human health. 

Since antiquity, people have ingested, applied, and used lead despite its harmful effects on human health.

Examining the changing notions of lead's utility from classical times until the present, the exhibit featured unique biological and artificial specimens, images, rare books, and manuscripts. It illustrated that, for most of human history, people used lead in many ways, despite its dangers. Only with the development of genetics, chemistry, and molecular biology were lead’s poisonous effects on health thoroughly understood. 

The Mütter Museum helps the public appreciate the mysteries and beauty of the human body while understanding the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease.

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