Given the recent interest in blast injury spurred by returning soldiers from overseas conflicts, we sought to research the early historical descriptions of blast injuries and their treatments. Consideration was given to specific descriptions of survivors of closed head injury and their treatment.
A review of the medical and nonmedical literature was undertaken, with particular emphasis on pre-1800 descriptions of volcanic eruptions and mining accidents. Compilations of accounts of the Etna eruptions dating from 126 BC were translated into English, and early mining texts from the 1600s and 1700s were reviewed.
Accumulations of flammable gases were recorded in many medieval sources and this knowledge of toxic gas which could lead to blast injury was known in the mining community by 1316. No direct attribution of injuries to blast forces was present in the historical record examined before the 1300s, although mining accounts in the 1600s detail deaths due to blast. No specific descriptions of survivors of a closed head injury were found in the mining and volcanic eruption literature.
Descriptions and warnings of blast forces were commonly written about in the medieval and Renaissance mining communities. Personal narratives as early as 1316 recognize the traumatic effects of blast injury. No mining or volcanic blast descriptions before 1800 detailed severe closed head injury survivors, suggesting greater mortality than morbidity from blast injury in the premodern era. This review also uncovered that there was no historical treatment or remedy recommended to survivors of blast injury. Blast explosions resulting in injury or death were frequently described, although in simplistic terminology.