It was hard to miss all the news about “cupping” during the 2016 Olympics, but in case you did, many athletes appeared for competition with large round bruises on their shoulders and backs. These marks resulted from the placement of a heated glass cup against the athlete’s skin to draw blood to the skin. Especially noticeable were the marks on Olympian Michael Phelps, who uses “cupping” to relax his muscles after competition. Although considered a fad today, the technique has ancient Chinese origins. Did you know that it was also used in colonial North America? Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists confirmed this when a cupping glass was recovered from the earliest well in James Fort, where it was discarded in June, 1610.
The cup was likely part of the surgeon’s chest sent to Jamestown in 1609 by London surgeon John Woodall. Eight years later, Woodall wrote a medical textbook entitled: The surgions mate, or, A treatise discouering faithfully and plainely the due contents of the surgions chest…. He stated, “there is many necessary works in Surgery performed by Cupping glasses,” and described how to “set” the cups using a flame. According to Woodall, cupping glasses were “needful” for the treatment of “Bubo or botch,” “nodell,” “to draw back humours,” lethargy, aches or pains, sciatica, and “to draw bloud and spirits to a member withering or benumbed….”