Coffin Birth

Why WHY do we not have access to this program here in the U.S.? I just searched Hulu Plus and Netflix for this show, but no dice. I’m tempted to buy the boxed set, but I fear that DVDs from Britain aren’t compatible with American players.

P.S. The case described below is extra-interesting to me because of my previous academic life as a Celticist!

xmorbidcuriosityx:

ellamorte:

Coffin birth, known in academia by the more accurate term postmortem fetal extrusion, is the expulsion of a nonviable fetus through the vaginal opening of the decomposing body of a pregnant woman as a result of the increasing pressure of intra-abdominal gases. This kind of postmortem delivery…

There was an episode of History Cold Case on in the UK recently (BBC 2) called ‘The Woman and the Three Babies’ that featured an example of coffin birth in an archaeological context. Grim, but fascinating, stuff. 

For those unfamiliar with the programme, it features a team of renowned forensic experts from the University of Dundee’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification analysing the skeletons of everyday people from across the ages:

“…the team reveals in staggering detail how each person lived his or her life, opening new windows on the history of our forebears by literally fleshing out the person that the skeleton once was.

Much more than just looking at historical remains, the History Cold Case team work on answering three big questions for each skeleton: Who were they? Why did they die? And what does their life story explain that was not known before?

These remarkable stories of everyday people are painstakingly reconstructed, along with faces that haven’t been seen for hundreds of years…” (quote: BBC)

Anywaaaay, the team were called in to investigate the discovery of a female skeleton dating from around 100AD, buried in a ‘bizarre’ position, along with the remains of the three aforementioned babies. They set out to determine whether she was a Celt or a Roman and what her story reveals about attitudes towards pregnancy and childbirth during the Roman occupation of Britain. 

It’s an incredibly poignant episode but irritatingly, it is no longer available on iPlayer. ARGH! However….the boxset of the series is released on 3rd October and I would highly recommend purchasing it. The programme does an amazing job of demonstrating the value of studying archaeological bodies and the profession’s important role of advocacy - telling the forgotten stories of those who can no longer speak. 

(Source: ellamorte)

In pictures: Stirling Castle skeletons reveal warriors' violent demise
Here are two corpses hanging from chains. Oh yeah, and some bones and skulls hanging out behind them.
They’re at the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones), in Évora, Portugal. It’s a small interior chapel built in the 16th century. From Wikipedia:

Its walls and eight pillars are decorated in carefully arranged bones and skulls held together by cement. The ceiling is made of white painted brick and is painted with death motifs. The number of skeletons of monks was calculated to be about 5000, coming from the cemeteries that were situated inside several dozen churches. Some of these skulls have been scribbled with graffiti. Two desiccated corpses, one of which is a child, dangle from a chain.

You can view a 360-degree panorama of the chapel here. Despite the picture above, the place is really quite beautiful, especially the ceiling.

Here are two corpses hanging from chains. Oh yeah, and some bones and skulls hanging out behind them.

They’re at the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones), in Évora, Portugal. It’s a small interior chapel built in the 16th century. From Wikipedia:

Its walls and eight pillars are decorated in carefully arranged bones and skulls held together by cement. The ceiling is made of white painted brick and is painted with death motifs. The number of skeletons of monks was calculated to be about 5000, coming from the cemeteries that were situated inside several dozen churches. Some of these skulls have been scribbled with graffiti. Two desiccated corpses, one of which is a child, dangle from a chain.

You can view a 360-degree panorama of the chapel here. Despite the picture above, the place is really quite beautiful, especially the ceiling.

War Victims Skeletons by San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives on Flickr.
Interesting post on the Museum of London’s blog about the “catastrophe cemetery” created at East Smithfield for victims of the Black Death:

The plague, or the Black Death, is a particularly interesting period in London’s history; it was both short and dramatic, hitting hardest in 1349 to 50. Whilst outbreaks of plague in London would continue throughout the following two centuries (and still occur throughout undeveloped parts of the world), the largest death toll occurred in a very brief period. Families were wiped out, whole neighbourhoods destroyed and the landscape of the medieval city was changed for good.

Image: Georgian London. (Shown: Jelena Bekvalac, osteologist at Museum of London.)

Interesting post on the Museum of London’s blog about the “catastrophe cemetery” created at East Smithfield for victims of the Black Death:

The plague, or the Black Death, is a particularly interesting period in London’s history; it was both short and dramatic, hitting hardest in 1349 to 50. Whilst outbreaks of plague in London would continue throughout the following two centuries (and still occur throughout undeveloped parts of the world), the largest death toll occurred in a very brief period. Families were wiped out, whole neighbourhoods destroyed and the landscape of the medieval city was changed for good.

Image: Georgian London. (Shown: Jelena Bekvalac, osteologist at Museum of London.)

Dressed for Eternity is a short slideshow of images of the mummies in the Capuchin catacombs of Palermo by photographer Paolo Ventura. Here’s one:

Most of the images focus on the mummies’ outfits. Check it out.

These are some monks.
How do I know they’re monks? Because they’re in the “Monks’ Corridor” of the Capuchin catacombs in Palermo, Sicily; that’s how. (Or at least that’s what Wikipedia says.) There are about 8000 (dressed-up) mummies lining the walls of the catacombs, and the halls are categorized: Men, Women, Virgins, Children, Priests, Monks, and Professionals. More posts and images to come in the next few days.
Image Source: Wikipedia.

These are some monks.

How do I know they’re monks? Because they’re in the “Monks’ Corridor” of the Capuchin catacombs in Palermo, Sicily; that’s how. (Or at least that’s what Wikipedia says.) There are about 8000 (dressed-up) mummies lining the walls of the catacombs, and the halls are categorized: Men, Women, Virgins, Children, Priests, Monks, and Professionals. More posts and images to come in the next few days.

Image Source: Wikipedia.

This is the “Women’s Corridor” of the Capuchin catacombs in Palermo, Sicily.
I’ve been meaning to post about this place for months. There are so many mummies in these catacombs, and pictures of them (and their finery) on the internet, that I must admit I’m a bit overwhelmed. I’ll be posting more images and links in the coming days via my queue. 
In the meantime, here’s a little more background on the catacombs from Wikipedia:

Originally the catacombs were intended only for the dead friars. However, in the following centuries it became a status symbol to be entombed into the Capuchin catacombs. In their wills, local luminaries would ask to be preserved in certain clothes, or even to have their clothes changed at regular intervals. Priests wore their clerical vestments, others were clothed according to the contemporary fashion. Relatives would visit to pray for the deceased and also to maintain the body in presentable condition. The catacombs were maintained through the donations of the relatives of the deceased. Each new body was placed in a temporary niche and later placed into a more permanent place. As long as the contributions continued, the body remained in its proper place but when the relatives did not send money any more, the body was put aside on a shelf until they continued to pay.

Image Source: Wikipedia.

This is the “Women’s Corridor” of the Capuchin catacombs in Palermo, Sicily.

I’ve been meaning to post about this place for months. There are so many mummies in these catacombs, and pictures of them (and their finery) on the internet, that I must admit I’m a bit overwhelmed. I’ll be posting more images and links in the coming days via my queue. 

In the meantime, here’s a little more background on the catacombs from Wikipedia:

Originally the catacombs were intended only for the dead friars. However, in the following centuries it became a status symbol to be entombed into the Capuchin catacombs. In their wills, local luminaries would ask to be preserved in certain clothes, or even to have their clothes changed at regular intervals. Priests wore their clerical vestments, others were clothed according to the contemporary fashion. Relatives would visit to pray for the deceased and also to maintain the body in presentable condition. The catacombs were maintained through the donations of the relatives of the deceased. Each new body was placed in a temporary niche and later placed into a more permanent place. As long as the contributions continued, the body remained in its proper place but when the relatives did not send money any more, the body was put aside on a shelf until they continued to pay.

Image Source: Wikipedia.

Great article from The Economist about the skeletons of the Battle of Towton (England, 1461).

Great article from The Economist about the skeletons of the Battle of Towton (England, 1461).

The skeletons of Herculaneum and body casts of Pompeii might have been what first got me fascinated with archaeology and human remains. As a kid, I had a copy of National Geographic's May 1984 issue (cover story: “The Dead Do Tell Tales at Vesuvius”), and I thumbed through it constantly, wearing down the binding.

Most unforgettable was the Ring Lady:

(Click for image source.)

Henry Bedford Lemere, “Exeter Cathedral Tombs,” ca. 1865-85. Source: Cornell University Library on Flickr.

Henry Bedford Lemere, “Exeter Cathedral Tombs,” ca. 1865-85. Source: Cornell University Library on Flickr.

These are two of the sharp-dressed skeletons at Waldsassen Basilica in Bavaria. Here is about all that’s really known about these guys, from Atlas Obscura:

Known as the “Holy Bodies,” they are the skeletons of Christian martyrs who were exhumed from the catacombs of Rome between 1688 and 1765. What makes these even more unusual than standard skeletal relics is that these skeletons are dressed in elaborate 1700s garb, covered in jewels, and generally look like royalty. Each year, the church celebrates a Holy-Bodies-Fest celebrating these martyrs, with the idea that we too are “Holy Bodies.”

(I’m not a textile expert, but these outfits look to predate the 1700s by a century or two, but I could be wrong.)
In addition to the article linked above, Atlas Obscura has a first-hand account of a visit to the Basilica, with more pictures!

These are two of the sharp-dressed skeletons at Waldsassen Basilica in Bavaria. Here is about all that’s really known about these guys, from Atlas Obscura:

Known as the “Holy Bodies,” they are the skeletons of Christian martyrs who were exhumed from the catacombs of Rome between 1688 and 1765. What makes these even more unusual than standard skeletal relics is that these skeletons are dressed in elaborate 1700s garb, covered in jewels, and generally look like royalty. Each year, the church celebrates a Holy-Bodies-Fest celebrating these martyrs, with the idea that we too are “Holy Bodies.”

(I’m not a textile expert, but these outfits look to predate the 1700s by a century or two, but I could be wrong.)

In addition to the article linked above, Atlas Obscura has a first-hand account of a visit to the Basilica, with more pictures!

I first learned about the Skeleton Lake of Roopkund on Atlas Obscura. It’s a glacial lake in India where, in 1942, a British forest guard made a ghastly discovery:

Some 16,000 feet above sea level, at the bottom of a small valley, was a frozen lake absolutely full of skeletons. That summer, the ice melting revealed even more skeletal remains, floating in the water and lying haphazardly around the lake’s edges. Something horrible had happened here. […]
Flesh, hair, and the bones themselves had been preserved by the dry, cold air, but no one could properly determine exactly when they were from. More than that, they had no idea what had killed over 200 people in this small valley. Many theories were put forth including an epidemic, landslide, and ritual suicide. For decades, no one was able to shed light on the mystery of Skeleton Lake.
However, a 2004 expedition to the site seems to have finally revealed the mystery of what caused those people’s deaths. The answer was stranger than anyone had guessed.
As it turns out, all the bodies date to around 850 AD. DNA evidence indicates that there were two distinct groups of people, one a family or tribe of closely related individuals, and a second smaller, shorter group of locals, likely hired as porters and guides. Rings, spears, leather shoes, and bamboo staves were found, leading experts to believe that the group was comprised of pilgrims heading through the valley with the help of the locals.
All the bodies had died in a similar way, from blows to the head. However, the short deep cracks in the skulls appeared to be the result not of weapons, but rather of something rounded. The bodies also only had wounds on their heads, and shoulders as if the blows had all come from directly above. What had killed them all, porter and pilgrim alike?
Among Himalayan women there is an ancient and traditional folk song. The lyrics describe a goddess so enraged at outsiders who defiled her mountain sanctuary that she rained death upon them by flinging hailstones “hard as iron.” After much research and consideration, the 2004 expedition came to the same conclusion. All 200 people died from a sudden and severe hailstorm.

Image Source: Amateur Traveler.

I first learned about the Skeleton Lake of Roopkund on Atlas Obscura. It’s a glacial lake in India where, in 1942, a British forest guard made a ghastly discovery:

Some 16,000 feet above sea level, at the bottom of a small valley, was a frozen lake absolutely full of skeletons. That summer, the ice melting revealed even more skeletal remains, floating in the water and lying haphazardly around the lake’s edges. Something horrible had happened here. […]

Flesh, hair, and the bones themselves had been preserved by the dry, cold air, but no one could properly determine exactly when they were from. More than that, they had no idea what had killed over 200 people in this small valley. Many theories were put forth including an epidemic, landslide, and ritual suicide. For decades, no one was able to shed light on the mystery of Skeleton Lake.

However, a 2004 expedition to the site seems to have finally revealed the mystery of what caused those people’s deaths. The answer was stranger than anyone had guessed.

As it turns out, all the bodies date to around 850 AD. DNA evidence indicates that there were two distinct groups of people, one a family or tribe of closely related individuals, and a second smaller, shorter group of locals, likely hired as porters and guides. Rings, spears, leather shoes, and bamboo staves were found, leading experts to believe that the group was comprised of pilgrims heading through the valley with the help of the locals.

All the bodies had died in a similar way, from blows to the head. However, the short deep cracks in the skulls appeared to be the result not of weapons, but rather of something rounded. The bodies also only had wounds on their heads, and shoulders as if the blows had all come from directly above. What had killed them all, porter and pilgrim alike?

Among Himalayan women there is an ancient and traditional folk song. The lyrics describe a goddess so enraged at outsiders who defiled her mountain sanctuary that she rained death upon them by flinging hailstones “hard as iron.” After much research and consideration, the 2004 expedition came to the same conclusion. All 200 people died from a sudden and severe hailstorm.

Image Source: Amateur Traveler.

Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic. (Source: Diether on Wikimedia Commons.)

Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic. (Source: Diether on Wikimedia Commons.)

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

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