Date of Defense


Date of Graduation



Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Luis Toledo-Pereyra

Second Advisor

Natalio Ohanna


The history of Mexican surgery is deeply rooted in ancient Mesoamerican culture and practice. From a close review of the texts available, it was determined that the Aztecs not only had a developed method of surgical practice that served a variety of uses but also that the Aztecs, as the culmination of Mesoamerican civilization, contributed to the modern practice of surgery. Daily life and ritual revolved around the predictions of the tonalamatl, or the Aztec astrological calendar. Two texts are of significant importance to this investigation and serve as a testimony to the accomplishments of the Aztec nation. The first is the Florentine Codex, compiled by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, titled The General History of the Things of New Spain (1540-1585). The second is the Badianus Manuscript, or the Codex Barberini (1552), compiled by Aztec physician Martín de la Cruz and translated to Latin by Juan Badiano. Surgical procedures varied greatly from setting fractured bones, orthopedics, draining abscesses and reconstructing wounds to burn treatment, ophthalmological procedures and human sacrificial mutilation. Perhaps one of the most significant contributions to modern surgical practice is the procedure for therapeutic arthrocentesis. Human hair and cactus fibers were commonly used as sutures with cactus or bone needles. It was observed that Aztec physicians practiced interrupted suturing and considered inflammation as a disease process not necessarily related to healing. Aztec surgeons used traction and counter-traction to reduce fractures and sprains, and used splints to immobilize breaks, as did their European counterparts. Aztec surgeons were some of the first to practice intramedullary fixation, using wooden pegs as intramedullary nails to reunite the pieces of bonein a break. The Aztec contributions to modern medicine and specifically to modern surgery are visible in several modern practices, most notably in the practices of arthrocentesis and fracture repair.

Access Setting

Honors Thesis-Restricted