This is the upper end of a right femur (thigh bone) with a musket ball deeply embedded in it. It comes from the body of a soldier who was shot at the Battle of Waterloo, and who almost certainly died from his wound.

Many soldiers who were shot at Waterloo survived their injuries, assuming they were hit by small-arms fire (from a musket, pistol or carbine), and not by cannon-fire. The majority of these survivors were hit in the limbs (around 75 per cent of live casualties). This bone is almost certainly a post-mortem specimen (removed after the soldier’s death) as this particular type of injury carried a mortality rate of 90-100 per cent.

Some soldiers were treated on the field whilst others had to wait until they had travelled back to Britain. Many wounded soldiers did not die from the injury itself but rather from the infection that often followed in the days and weeks later. Battlefields were dirty places and this musket ball would have carried bits of cloth from the soldier’s uniform into the joint, along with any dirt and bacteria on it. Without proper cleaning (or knowledge of bacteria at this time), the wound would have become infected. In this case, it appears septic arthritis has occurred. The bone around the musket ball has begun to break down as part of the body’s inflammatory reaction to infection.

A bullet this deeply embedded in the bone would have been very difficult to remove. Sometimes the small circular blade of a trephine (a T-shaped instrument used to rotate a circular blade to cut a disc of bone from the skull) could cut the bone surrounding the ball and ease its retrieval.

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This object is in the collection of Surgeons’ Hall Museum