Interesting trepanation news last week: In Soria, Spain, two skulls have been exhumed showing evidence of trepanation. This is remarkable because they date from the 13th and 14th centuries C.E.—a time when trepanation was not usually done in the region.
From Science Daily:

The two skulls found in the cemetery in Soria belong to a male between 50 and 55 years and a woman between 45 and 50 years. The expert points out that “another interesting aspect of this finding is that trepanation in women is considered rare throughout all periods in history. In Spain, only 10% of those trepanned skulls found belonged to women.” [ … ]
The trepanation technique differs in each of the skulls. The skull of the male has been grooved with a sharp object and it is unknown whether trepanation occurred before or after his death. López Martínez confirms that “if the procedure took place whilst still alive, there is no sign of regeneration and the subject did not survive.”
In the woman, a scraping technique was used while she was still alive. According to the researchers, she survived for a “relatively long” amount of time afterwards given that the wound scarring is advanced.

This got me thinking about a documentary I saw a while back about a Brit named Amanda Feilding. Here’s a clip of her trepanning herself in front of a mirror. (Probably unnecessary warning: graphic.)
When I get migraines, I fantasize about self-trepanation. But only for about ten seconds.
Image: Detail from “The Extraction of the Stone of Madness”, a painting by Hieronymus Bosch depicting trepanation (c.1488-1516). Via Wikipedia.

Interesting trepanation news last week: In Soria, Spain, two skulls have been exhumed showing evidence of trepanation. This is remarkable because they date from the 13th and 14th centuries C.E.—a time when trepanation was not usually done in the region.

From Science Daily:

The two skulls found in the cemetery in Soria belong to a male between 50 and 55 years and a woman between 45 and 50 years. The expert points out that “another interesting aspect of this finding is that trepanation in women is considered rare throughout all periods in history. In Spain, only 10% of those trepanned skulls found belonged to women.” [ … ]

The trepanation technique differs in each of the skulls. The skull of the male has been grooved with a sharp object and it is unknown whether trepanation occurred before or after his death. López Martínez confirms that “if the procedure took place whilst still alive, there is no sign of regeneration and the subject did not survive.”

In the woman, a scraping technique was used while she was still alive. According to the researchers, she survived for a “relatively long” amount of time afterwards given that the wound scarring is advanced.

This got me thinking about a documentary I saw a while back about a Brit named Amanda Feilding. Here’s a clip of her trepanning herself in front of a mirror. (Probably unnecessary warning: graphic.)

When I get migraines, I fantasize about self-trepanation. But only for about ten seconds.

Image: Detail from “The Extraction of the Stone of Madness”, a painting by Hieronymus Bosch depicting trepanation (c.1488-1516). Via Wikipedia.

From the Dissection Room: Neurofibromatosis (The Chirurgeon's Apprentice)

The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice posted this on Facebook this morning, and I couldn’t not share:

A female skull dating from 1829 with the bony skeleton of a large facial tumour (possibly caused by neurofibromatosis) involving the right side of the face. The tumour arose in the right antrum, and during five years’ growth destroyed the right malar bone, the palate, and the maxilla. Specimen from the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, London.

Read the whole article.

Toothpick (possibly from England), ca. 1620, in the V&A Museum, London:

This toothpick is in the form of an enamelled gold arm that holds a curved sickle for picking teeth. At the other end it has a death’s-head finial (the decorative knob). Elaborately decorated toothpicks had a long tradition. In the Middle Ages they were often made from the claws of birds, especially the bittern, a long-legged water bird.
The toothpick shows an ingenious use of the popular contemporary imagery of death: the arm is surmounted by a skull and holds the sickle of Father Time. Once again the message is ‘Remember you must die’. 

Toothpick (possibly from England), ca. 1620, in the V&A Museum, London:

This toothpick is in the form of an enamelled gold arm that holds a curved sickle for picking teeth. At the other end it has a death’s-head finial (the decorative knob). Elaborately decorated toothpicks had a long tradition. In the Middle Ages they were often made from the claws of birds, especially the bittern, a long-legged water bird.

The toothpick shows an ingenious use of the popular contemporary imagery of death: the arm is surmounted by a skull and holds the sickle of Father Time. Once again the message is ‘Remember you must die’. 

'I’m not sure MRI can prove that someone who is dead (or a mummy) won’t come back to life. As a scientist, you simply have to say such events are extraordinarily rare. As a believer, you can say whatever you’d like; I’m a believer, so I do believe that people will live again … but I won’t try to use MRI to convince you of that position.' Sorenson is a nice, friendly guy, and I hope for his sake that God is not a cat lover.
The Chirurgeon's Apprentice: The Two-Headed Boy of Bengal

This post from the Dissection Room over on The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice (an entire blog devoted to “the horrors of pre-anaesthetic surgery”!) is about a condition known as craniopagus parasiticus and the case of an 18th-century Bengali boy:

The normal face and head were not malformed. The brains were distinct, each invested in its own membranes; the dura mater of each adhered to that of the other at the point of contact. The chief supply of blood to the upper head was by a number of vessels passing from the membranes of one brain to that of the other. The movements of the features of the upper head appear to have been purely reflex, and by no means to have been controlled by the feelings or desires of the child. The movements of the eyes of the accessory head did not correspond with those of the child, and the eyelids were usually open, even during sleep.

His skull(s) now reside(s) at the Royal College of Surgeons in London.

The Chirurgeon's Apprentice: The Body-Snatchers Unearthed

Remember my recent posts about the rise of body-snatching in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the preventative measures folks took to protect their dead?

The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice has given the subject a much more detailed (and well-researched) treatment over on her site.

From what little records exist, we know that body-snatchers required some level of moonlight in order to conduct their work in cemeteries, although not all bodies were obtained through exhumation. The clothes and burial shroud were sometimes removed, for stealing a body on its own was not considered theft since it had no value as property.

Read the whole article.

The Rise of the Mortsafe

Mo medical schools, mo problems.

About 200 years ago, the expansion of medical schools meant a growing need for bodies suitable for dissection. From Wikipedia

Before the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes in the UK were those condemned to death and dissection by the courts. Those who were sentenced to dissection by the courts were often guilty of comparatively harsher crimes. Such sentences did not provide enough subjects for the medical schools and private anatomical schools (which did not require a licence before 1832). While during the 18th century hundreds had been executed for trivial crimes, by the 19th century only about 55 people were being sentenced to capital punishment each year. However, with the expansion of the medical schools, as many as 500 cadavers were needed. 

Before electric power to supply refrigeration, bodies would decay rapidly and become unusable for study. Therefore, the medical profession turned to body snatching to supply the deficit of bodies fresh enough to be examined.

Stealing a corpse was only a misdemeanour at common law, not a felony, and was therefore only punishable with fine and imprisonment, rather than transportation or execution. The trade was a sufficiently lucrative business to run the risk of detection, particularly as the authorities tended to ignore what they considered a necessary evil.

The mortsafe was invented in the early nineteenth century to protect graves from the so-called “Resurrection Men” who plied this trade. Mortsafes were contraptions of iron and/or stones that essentially served as re-usable, coffin-sized padlocks: to make the graves of the newly dead inaccessible for as long as it took for their bodies to putrefy past the point of medical “usefulness.” (Morbid Anatomy wrote a really good post about mortsafes a while back, by the way.)

A few mortsafes are still on display in some churchyards in Scotland. Not coincidentally, these churchyards were near medical schools.


Mortsafe (in the form of an iron coffin) in Colinton Kirkyard, outside Edinburgh. Photograph by Kim Traynor.


Mortsafe in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh. Photograph by Kim Traynor

From astropop (of Morbid Anatomy) on Flickr:

Child’s arm, holding the eye’s vascular tissue. Prepared by Bernardus Siegfried Albinus, 1730. [ … ] From the Museum Boerhaave in Leiden, the Netherlands.

From astropop (of Morbid Anatomy) on Flickr:

Child’s arm, holding the eye’s vascular tissue. Prepared by Bernardus Siegfried Albinus, 1730. [ … ] From the Museum Boerhaave in Leiden, the Netherlands.

The Antikamnia Company 1901 by peacay on Flickr.
Another one. I couldn’t help it. For more, visit BibliOdyssey.

The Antikamnia Company 1901 by peacay on Flickr.

Another one. I couldn’t help it. For more, visit BibliOdyssey.

Just read this super-cool post on super-cool blog BibliOdyssey about the Antikamnia Chemical Company and their calendar images from the turn of the last century. There are a ton more images like the one above (most of them are less racist), all by pharmacist/printer/artist Louis Crucius.
Some background from BibliOdyssey:

While he was studying he worked in a pharmacy and made humorous sketches that were placed in the window of the store. A collection of these drawings was published in 1893 ('Funny Bones'). He lectured in histology and anatomy and eventually came to be a Professor of Anatomy but died in 1898 from kidney tumours.Although he gave most of his drawings away, Crucius sold a number of them to the Antikamnia (‘opposed to pain’) Chemical Company which had been established in St Louis in 1890. They produced antikamnia medicines containing the coal tar derivative, acetanilid, an anti-fever drug with pain relieving properties somewhat related to paracetamol, but which would be later shown to be a toxic compound not to mention addictive. Antikamnia was mixed with substances like codeine and quinine to enhance the pain relieving effects.30 of the Crucius 'dance of death'-inspired drawings were used to make 5 years worth of Antikamnia Chemical Company calendars - between 1897 and 1901. They had a fairly aggressive marketing campaign in which the calendars (aimed at the medical fraternity) as well as postcards and sample packs were distributed to doctors in the United States and overseas.

My great-great-grandfather was a pharmacist in Hardwick, Vermont, around this time. I wonder if he was familiar with these calendars.
Image: The Antikamnia Company 1901 (An Old Negro Melody) by peacay on Flickr.

Just read this super-cool post on super-cool blog BibliOdyssey about the Antikamnia Chemical Company and their calendar images from the turn of the last century. There are a ton more images like the one above (most of them are less racist), all by pharmacist/printer/artist Louis Crucius.

Some background from BibliOdyssey:

While he was studying he worked in a pharmacy and made humorous sketches that were placed in the window of the store. A collection of these drawings was published in 1893 ('Funny Bones'). He lectured in histology and anatomy and eventually came to be a Professor of Anatomy but died in 1898 from kidney tumours.

Although he gave most of his drawings away, Crucius sold a number of them to the Antikamnia (‘opposed to pain’) Chemical Company which had been established in St Louis in 1890. They produced antikamnia medicines containing the coal tar derivative, acetanilid, an anti-fever drug with pain relieving properties somewhat related to paracetamol, but which would be later shown to be a toxic compound not to mention addictive. Antikamnia was mixed with substances like codeine and quinine to enhance the pain relieving effects.

30 of the Crucius 'dance of death'-inspired drawings were used to make 5 years worth of Antikamnia Chemical Company calendars - between 1897 and 1901. They had a fairly aggressive marketing campaign in which the calendars (aimed at the medical fraternity) as well as postcards and sample packs were distributed to doctors in the United States and overseas.

My great-great-grandfather was a pharmacist in Hardwick, Vermont, around this time. I wonder if he was familiar with these calendars.

Image: The Antikamnia Company 1901 (An Old Negro Melody) by peacay on Flickr.

Black Death did not kill indiscriminately: study

This article’s a few years old, and I’m not sure if there has been follow-up research since 2008 confirming/disproving this, or not. Still interesting.

I just got back from a visit to my mom and stepdad in Maine. They’re antique dealers, and they recently scored a box full of Harper’s Weeklies from the 1860s and Woman’s Home Companions from the early 20th century. I found this ad, buried in a page full of tiny mail-order advertisements for scrofula and drunkenness cures, in a copy of Harper’s Weekly from July 25, 1868.
You might already know that embalming really took off in America around the time of the Civil War. From Wikipedia’s history of embalming:

Contemporary embalming methods advanced markedly during the American Civil War, which once again involved many servicemen dying far from home, and their family wishing them returned for local burial. Dr. Thomas Holmes received a commission from the Army Medical Corps to embalm the corpses of dead Union officers to return to their families. Military authorities also permitted private embalmers to work in military-controlled areas. The passage of Abraham Lincoln's body home for burial was made possible by embalming and it brought the possibilities and potential of embalming to a wider public notice.
In 1867, the German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann discovered formaldehyde, whose preservative properties were soon discovered and which became the foundation for modern methods of embalming, replacing previous methods based on alcohol and the use of arsenical salts.

I’m not sure where “Nekrosozoic” fits in to all this, whether it was related to the discovery of formaldehyde in 1867, or if it ever really took off. It seems that its defining characteristic was that it involved applying liquid with a paint brush to the outside of the body, as opposed to injecting chemicals into the corpse via an artery.
A quick search turned up this article from the New York Times from around the same time as this ad (May 31, 1868), which describes a demonstration of the Nekrosozoic process before “a large number of medical gentlemen” at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Some highlights:

The subject before the audience had been dead 107 days. On being cut open by Dr Janeway, the liver, lungs, heart, viscera, and fluids were found as fresh as immediately after death, and but slightly unpleasant in odor. Pieces of the liver and kidneys were handed round on plates for the inspection of those present, who applied their noses with great apparent satisfaction.
[…] A great advantage of this embalming process is, that it can be applied by any one, and is exceedinly useful in keeping bodies that have journeys to perform before burial. […]
The audience, after examining, in turn, sundry tissues of the body, through microscopes, retired much gratified.

Nice.

I just got back from a visit to my mom and stepdad in Maine. They’re antique dealers, and they recently scored a box full of Harper’s Weeklies from the 1860s and Woman’s Home Companions from the early 20th century. I found this ad, buried in a page full of tiny mail-order advertisements for scrofula and drunkenness cures, in a copy of Harper’s Weekly from July 25, 1868.

You might already know that embalming really took off in America around the time of the Civil War. From Wikipedia’s history of embalming:

Contemporary embalming methods advanced markedly during the American Civil War, which once again involved many servicemen dying far from home, and their family wishing them returned for local burial. Dr. Thomas Holmes received a commission from the Army Medical Corps to embalm the corpses of dead Union officers to return to their families. Military authorities also permitted private embalmers to work in military-controlled areas. The passage of Abraham Lincoln's body home for burial was made possible by embalming and it brought the possibilities and potential of embalming to a wider public notice.

In 1867, the German chemist August Wilhelm von Hofmann discovered formaldehyde, whose preservative properties were soon discovered and which became the foundation for modern methods of embalming, replacing previous methods based on alcohol and the use of arsenical salts.

I’m not sure where “Nekrosozoic” fits in to all this, whether it was related to the discovery of formaldehyde in 1867, or if it ever really took off. It seems that its defining characteristic was that it involved applying liquid with a paint brush to the outside of the body, as opposed to injecting chemicals into the corpse via an artery.

A quick search turned up this article from the New York Times from around the same time as this ad (May 31, 1868), which describes a demonstration of the Nekrosozoic process before “a large number of medical gentlemen” at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Some highlights:

The subject before the audience had been dead 107 days. On being cut open by Dr Janeway, the liver, lungs, heart, viscera, and fluids were found as fresh as immediately after death, and but slightly unpleasant in odor. Pieces of the liver and kidneys were handed round on plates for the inspection of those present, who applied their noses with great apparent satisfaction.

[…] A great advantage of this embalming process is, that it can be applied by any one, and is exceedinly useful in keeping bodies that have journeys to perform before burial. […]

The audience, after examining, in turn, sundry tissues of the body, through microscopes, retired much gratified.

Nice.

Human Medical Skull by Ballyhooligan on Flickr:

A well used medical skull that came was part of a doctor’s estate. The skull cap is missing, as well as all of the teeth.

Human Medical Skull by Ballyhooligan on Flickr:

A well used medical skull that came was part of a doctor’s estate. The skull cap is missing, as well as all of the teeth.

In the late 1990s, a perfectly preserved Spanish flu victim from the 1918 pandemic was exhumed. Read more about it at Science Daily:

In a mass grave in a remote Inuit village near the town of Brevig Mission, a large Inuit woman lay buried under more than six feet of ice and dirt for more than 75 years. The permafrost plus the woman’s ample fat stores kept the virus in her lungs so well preserved that when a team of scientists exhumed her body in the late 1990s, they could recover enough viral RNA to sequence the 1918 strain in its entirety. This remarkable good fortune enabled these scientists to open a window onto a past pandemic—and perhaps gain a foothold for preventing a future one.

(Image: “Compulsory mask, brought in to combat the flu epidemic after the World War, 1918-1919,” by Sam Hood. State Library of New South Wales.)

In the late 1990s, a perfectly preserved Spanish flu victim from the 1918 pandemic was exhumed. Read more about it at Science Daily:

In a mass grave in a remote Inuit village near the town of Brevig Mission, a large Inuit woman lay buried under more than six feet of ice and dirt for more than 75 years. The permafrost plus the woman’s ample fat stores kept the virus in her lungs so well preserved that when a team of scientists exhumed her body in the late 1990s, they could recover enough viral RNA to sequence the 1918 strain in its entirety. This remarkable good fortune enabled these scientists to open a window onto a past pandemic—and perhaps gain a foothold for preventing a future one.

(Image: “Compulsory mask, brought in to combat the flu epidemic after the World War, 1918-1919,” by Sam Hood. State Library of New South Wales.)

Skeletons, mummies, bog bodies, exhumations. The dead, and what happens to them.

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