- Skull of Richard III - Recently discovered with his entire skeleton.
- The Lovers - These two skeletons, discovered in 1972 at Hasanlu in Iran, were nicknamed the Lovers for the affectionate pose they were found in.
- Possible bones of Mona Lisa - The skeleton that woman historians believe was Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous muse, Lisa Gherardin.
- The Elephant Man - Joseph Carey Merrick, born in 1862, never suffered from elephantiasis, but he believed his mother had been frightened by an elephant, causing the bulging tumors that sprouted from his face and eventually reached a circumference of three feet.
- Mesopotamian Human Sacrifice - skulls discovered at the royal cemetery at Ur in Iraq. Around 2,000 burials were recovered, attesting to the practice of human sacrifice on a large scale.
- Skull of pianist André Tchaikowsky - before his death, he donated his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company to be used in the play Hamlet as Yorick’s skull.
A NewAanalysis of the Oldest Known Human Dissection Specimen
What does this head from the thirteenth century tell us about Medieval medicine?
Capuchin Catacombs - Palermo, Italy
In 1599, Capuchin monks discovered that their catacombs contained a mysterious preservative that helped mummify the dead. As a result, more than 8,000 Sicilians from all walks of life chose to be buried here. The corpses range in date from the late 1500s to 1920 and most were embalmed before their display.
In the 1940s Allied bombs hit the monastery, destroying many of the mummies. The Capuchin Monastery (Convento dei Cappuccini) itself was rebuilt over the remains of the original medieval church in 1623 and was once again restored in the early 20th century.
Strange Vintage Illustration
Sokushinbutsu - The Bizarre Practice of Self-Mummification
Scattered throughout Northern Japan around the Yamagata Prefecture are two dozen mummified Japanese monks known as Sokushinbutsu, who caused their own deaths by way of self-mummification. A successful mummification took upwards of ten years. It is believed that many hundreds of monks tried, but only about 20 such mummifications have been discovered to date.
The elaborate process started with three years of eating a special diet consisting only of nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical activity that stripped them of their body fat. They then ate only bark and roots for another three years and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls.
This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and most importantly, it made the body too poisonous to be eaten by maggots. Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive.
When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed. After the tomb was sealed, the other monks in the temple would wait another three years, and open the tomb to see if the mummification was successful. If the monk had been successfully mummified, they were immediately seen as a Buddha and put in the temple for viewing. Usually, though, there was just a decomposed body.
Graphic Medical Oddities and Preserved Human Specimens
The Siriraj Medical Museum in Bangkok,Thailand abounds with medical curiosities. The Siriraj is actually comprised of six different museums: a museum of pathology, a forensics museum, a museum of the history of Thai medicine, a parasitology museum, an anatomical museum, and a prehistoric museum.
The Siriraj’s incredible holdings include: Bones, preserved organs, pathological fetuses, the mummified corpse of a notorious serial killer, a traditional Thai medicine shop, parasitic worms, a two-and-a-half-foot-wide scrotum removed from a man afflicted with elephantiasis, rows of skulls, the standing wax-filled remains of a cannibal, a delicately dissected nervous system, and the skeleton of the museum’s founder.
The Twelve Saints
“Taken from the catacombs of Rome in the 17th century, the relics of twelve martyred saints were then attired in the regalia of the period before being interred in a remote church on the German/Czech border.” - Immortal, Toby de Silva
The Crystal Maiden of the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave
Just outside San Ignacio, Belize in the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve is the Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave. Deep inside the cave, past huge boulders and cavernous rooms, one known as “The Cathedral”, is the skeletons of the ritual sacrifices made by the Maya to their Gods, more than a thousand years ago.
The skeletons range in age from one year old to adult. Four of those sacrificed are infants between the ages of one and three, some of them stuffed into crevices and small adjoining caves. There is one child of seven, a teenager of fifteen who appears to have been bound before being killed, a twenty year old, and the rest are adults between the ages of thirty and forty five. Many of the younger skeletons show sign of cranial deformation or “skull shaping” giving their heads a slightly elongated alien look.
Almost all were killed by blunt trauma to the head with some having had their entire skulls crushed. While the precise dating of the skeletons is difficult (due to their being essentially cemented to the cave floor by calcite) most of the pottery dates from between 700 and 900 AD, which is likely when the bodies found here were sacrificed.
Farther into the cave is the most famous of these long dead Maya, the skeleton of an eighteen year old girl known as the “The Crystal Maiden.”
She is unique in her positioning and the fact that two of her vertebrae are crushed. Because of this researchers believe she may have died in a particularly violent manner and then been thrown or tossed onto the ground, where she has laid for at least the last 1100 years. The skeleton has been there so long in fact that is has been completely calcified, giving her bones a sparkling, slightly plump look, and inspiring the name “The Crystal Maiden.”
It is unknown what the circumstances of the sacrifices were, though some believe they were to appease the rain god Chac, or possibly to the gods of the underworld. Another theory holds that these were believed to be witches and that by leaving them unburied in the cave, their spirits would be trapped there.
Three preserved human fetuses, presented in an antique display cabinet. The first is an altogether healthy fetus, the second suffers Polymelia, six arms, and the final, suffers a rare infection of the Shope papilloma virus, which causes a series of horn like growths in the forehead. These three are part of a large collection of human specimens, afflicted with various genetic diseases.