Anne Albert plans to spend eternity in the Peaceful Valley section of the Middle Island, N.Y., cemetery she’s chosen, next to her husband, their four dogs, four cats, two horses and a rabbit named Cutie.
New rules to be issued in the spring by the New York State Division of Cemeteries will allow Albert to pursue her wish — to have her cremated remains buried in Regency Forest Pet Memorial Cemetery.
Ever entertained the idea of leaving your body to science? Even if you have, you can scarcely have considered the strange fate of one donated corpse that has just been revealed in the journal Forensic Science International: a donor’s body was left in a Texan wilderness so that vultures could scavenge and “skeletonise” it - and distribute the remains far and wide.
This wasn’t for some horror movie - even though the process was captured on video. The aim was to discover how long it takes vultures to discover a body, how long it takes to reduce a body to bones - and how far the creatures are likely to distribute the parts they don’t eat.
A new exhibition at the Royal Society in London features some of the most remarkable treasures from 350 years of book collecting, including a rare volume that looks at causes of death in 17th century London.
The exhibition includes John Graunt’s 1679 work Natural and Political Observations…upon the Bills of Mortality, which provides this unique insight. Entries in the fold-out tables of mortality in the book range from the amusing to the shocking:
The year 1648 apparently saw a single death from “itch” while in 1660, nine people died as a result of being “frighted”. The tables bear several entries per year for unfortunate people who died of “lethargy”.
“Grief” was also a surprisingly common cause of death with over 200 cases recorded over a twenty year period.
In the decade from 1647-57 Graunt records almost 30,000 deaths from consumption (better known today as tuberculosis), especially shocking considering that the population of the City was probably no more than 350,000 at this time.
The rising numbers of fatalities attributed to smallpox – from 139 in 1647 to 1523 deaths in 1659 – bears testament to the vicious epidemic that would ravage London in the 17th century, not to be stemmed until Edward Jenner FRS’s development of a smallpox vaccination.
The tables list around 20 deaths a year from the “King’s Evil” (now thought to be another form of tuberculosis) – though Graunt is keen to put such superstitions to rest, declaring in his introduction that “the opinions of Plagues accompanying the entrance of Kings, is false, and seditious”.
A short piece on BBC Radio 4 - available on iPlayer for the next seven days.
Jonathan Charles is given unique access to the team of British forensic archaeologists carrying out the first coordinated scientific attempt to locate the remains of Holocaust victims at the site of Treblinka’s death camp.
Disgust is the Cinderella of emotions. While fear, sadness and anger, its nasty, flashy sisters, have drawn the rapt attention of psychologists, poor disgust has been hidden away in a corner, left to muck around in the ashes.
No longer. Disgust is having its moment in the light as researchers find that it does more than cause that sick feeling in the stomach. It protects human beings from disease and parasites, and affects almost every aspect of human relations, from romance to politics.
In several new books and a steady stream of research papers, scientists are exploring the evolution of disgust and its role in attitudes toward food, sexuality and other people.
Paul Rozin, a psychologist who is an emeritus professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a pioneer of modern disgust research, began researching it with a few collaborators in the 1980s, when disgust was far from the mainstream.
Preparing the biggest homecoming yet of its kind, authorities in New Zealand on Monday received 20 ancestral heads of Maori ethnic people once held in several French museums as a cultural curiosity.
Since 2003, the South Pacific country has embarked on an ambitious program of collecting back Maori heads and skeletal remains from museums around the world. Yet the program has run into significant obstacles.
France long resisted handing over such cultural artifacts, but a law passed in 2010 paved the way for the return of the Maori heads. They were obtained as long ago as the 19th century, and one as recently as 1999.
Some Maori heads, with intricate tattoos, were traditionally kept as trophies from tribal warfare. But once Westerners began offering prized goods in exchange for them, men were in danger of being killed simply for their tattoos, French museum officials have said.
The heads handed over to New Zealand were not available for public viewing on Monday. Over the years, French museums, private collectors and anthropological researchers have preserved and stored the heads.
The idea behind getting back the body parts was that they would be returned to their home tribes throughout New Zealand, where tribal elders could mourn them and, if they chose, give them proper burials.
“They are, after all, human remains, and in the Maori culture they should not be publicly displayed,” said Pou Temara, a university professor who chairs New Zealand’s repatriation advisory panel.
Bridget Gee, a New Zealand embassy spokeswoman, said the heads remanded on Monday have not been displayed in public for years.
Most of the remains aren’t readily identifiable, and only a small percentage have been returned to their home tribes — who are loath to accept any remains that aren’t their own. Heads and body parts from over 500 people now sit in storage at the national musuem, Te Papa, in Wellington.
The practice of preserving heads was begun by Maori as a way of remembering dead ancestors. In the decades after Europeans arrived, the heads became a curiosity and sought-after trade item, prompting Maori to ramp up their production levels.
French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand and New Zealand’s ambassador presided over a solemn ceremony at Quai Branly museum in Paris, where the heads were encased in a box — the largest single handover of Maori heads to be repatriated, New Zealand’s embassy said.
They are responsible for the conviction of the killers in some of Britain’s highest-profile murders, including those of Stephen Lawrence, Damilola Taylor and Rachel Nickell. What’s the secret of their success?
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — On a bluff overlooking a sweep of Southern California beach, scientists in 1976 unearthed what were among the oldest skeletal remains ever found in the Western Hemisphere.
Researchers would come to herald the bones — dating back nearly 10,000 years — as a potential treasure trove for understanding the earliest human history of the continental United States. But a local tribal group called the Kumeyaay Nation claimed that the bones, representing at least two people, were their ancestors and demanded them back several years ago.
For decades, fights like this over the provenance and treatment of human bones have played out across the nation. Yet new federal protections could mean that the vast majority of the remains of an estimated 160,000 Native Americans held by universities, museums and federal government agencies, including those sought by the Kumeyaay, may soon be transferred to tribes.
A British forensic archaeologist has unearthed fresh evidence to prove the existence of mass graves at the Nazi death camp Treblinka - scuppering the claims of Holocaust deniers who say it was merely a transit camp.
Some 800,000 Jews were killed at the site, in north east Poland, during the…
TV crime shows like Bones and CSI are quick to explain each death by showing highly detailed scans and video images of victims’ insides. Traditional autopsies, if shown at all, are at best in supporting roles to the high-tech equipment, and usually gloss over the sometimes physically grueling tasks of sawing through skin and bone.
But according to two autopsy and body imaging experts at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, the notion that “virtopsy” could replace traditional autopsy— made popular by such TV dramas — is simply not ready for scientifically vigorous prime time. The latest virtual imaging technologies — including full-body computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), ultrasound, X-ray and angiography — are helpful, they say, but cannot yet replace a direct physical inspection of the body’s main organs.
SHE was spirited to Scotland by a forward-thinking Egyptologist who made an unusual decision not to unwrap the mummified remains of a young woman to find any “treasure” lying beneath.
Now, more than 150 years later, the secrets of what is under the black-tarred linen surrounding the “Rhind Mummy” has been revealed in a series of CT scans.
An Edinburgh University team of radiologists and forensic pathologists have identified the remains as those of a 2,000-year-old Egyptian woman, aged 25-29, with a plate of metal, probably solid gold, in the shape of a flying scarab, placed on her skull.
Four of us sat around talking over the holidays. Eventually we hit on that merry, time-honored question: Do we want to be cremated or buried when we die?
My vote was decisive. I feel oddly comforted by the knowledge that one day I’ll turn to bone, cocooned, except for bugs and other foraging wildlife, in the earth. My thoughts stray to Lucy, that famous australopithecine ancestor of ours. Now residing in a museum, she dwelled for 3.2 million years in the African earth. If it’s good enough for Lucy, it’s good enough for me (though I’m delighted to enjoy life well past her mere 20 years).
The cremation versus burial binary, though, neglects a third option: bequeathing one’s body to science. Donating organs to people who need them to survive, or donating an intact body to a medical-school anatomy lab, are fine options. Yet, I’m intrigued also by a less traditional choice: a Body Farm…
Some people will refuse to leave their homes; a few will not even venture out of bed. They are among the millions of people who believe Friday the 13th is unlucky. As many as one in four are believed to subscribe to the superstition, according to research.
If you are one of them, 2012 may not be your year. There will be three Friday the 13ths: this coming Friday, then two more in April and July. To mark the occasion, The Independent on Sunday has investigated the superstitions, events and strange happenings associated with the date. There are 13 of them, so look away now if you are triskaidekaphobic (afraid of the number 13)…
Comparatively few people are privileged to get within a foot or two of the physical remains (actual or cast) of ancient or historic human ancestors……at least, not without the necessary scientific credentials and sanctions reserved exclusively for the scientists who are responsible for…
Good article by Max Rivlin-Nadler on The Awl about a visit to the National Funeral Directors Conference in Chicago. It’s all about the changing nature of the funeral biz and the rise in cremations.
One (alarming) highlight:
In 2007, an EPA report found dangerously high levels of formaldehyde and phenol in drinking water in locations near funeral homes throughout New York state. The burial of a corpse in a metal coffin, with the embalmed body inside, deposits other chemicals in groundwater. The coffin’s metals leech into the ground, followed eventually by the chemicals used to preserve the corpses. Every graveyard may be lush and green, but when you look at its chemical makeup it starts to look like a mini-Brownfield. (Distressingly, higher rates of cancer have been found among embalmers who have to breathe in this stuff every day.)
The Ultimate Equalizer, The Grim Reaper, The Blessed Release. One thing is certain - we all have death in common and this January we defy taboos and take a look at this unknowable certainty from many angles.
Through music, workshops, literature and installations, and talking with everyone from philosophers to funeral workers, we examine our attitudes towards death and why we are so reticent to talk about it.
Ohhhh, I want to go! Click here for further details and event listings.
It’s a rare day when Richard Drake turns down a dead body, but last week, he had no choice.
At 6-foot-1 and 350 pounds, the deceased in question was simply too big for the Cleveland Clinic Body Donation Program, which provides specimens for anatomy classes at the Lerner College of Medicine and elsewhere.
“Someone that’s shorter and carrying a lot of weight, that is a problem,” said Drake, director of anatomy and a professor of surgery. “The storage is one issue, but when you are obese, there’s a lot of tissue everywhere. The students don’t get as good a learning opportunity.”
Reluctantly, Drake informed the dead man’s family he’d have to turn down the donation request because their loved one exceeded the size limits for medical research.
“They understood that, because, actually, they had tried a few other places,” Drake said. “They were sort of checking around.”
In a country where more than a third of adults are obese, the impact of extra weight extends, it seems, even beyond death.
Officials at some whole body donation programs in the United States tell msnbc.com they’ve turned away corpses that are too fat for scientific study. Others say the bigger issue is that potential donors simply don’t sign up once they learn of weight limits that can be as low as 170 pounds, but generally top out at 300 pounds.
“Family members, or the person themselves, sometimes they’re a little taken aback,” said Stephen D. Anderson, coordinator of the Willed Body Program at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky. “They didn’t assume there were any restrictions.”
That surprise could be a problem, considering that a 2004 Johns Hopkins School of Medicine study found that about half of adults surveyed would consider donating their bodies to science.
But officials at the university-affiliated programs that supply perhaps 10,000 to 15,000 dead bodies each year to the nation’s nearly 140 medical schools say that weight and height limits are an unavoidable part of the process.
“The embalming process adds considerable weight. Generally, a 250-pound person might weigh 350 to 400 pounds when embalmed,” said Richard Dey, professor and chairman of the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at West Virginia University in Morgantown. His program receives about 275 bodies a year and turns away at least a few.
To be frank, bodies taller than about 6-foot-4 or heavier than about 300 pounds simply don’t fit on the trays that are sometimes stacked six high in the coolers where the deceased are kept, experts say.
It can be difficult for technicians to handle huge corpses, which have to be lifted and transferred frequently, often by slim technicians or students, said John Lee Powers, curator of anatomical materials at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. That program limits donors to between 170 pounds and 180 pounds, though an exceptionally tall donor might be allowed at 190.
“It’s the maximum our equipment will handle,” Powers said.
There’s also the educational aspect to consider. Donated bodies are used primarily for first-year anatomy students, who need to learn how the human body is supposedto look, said Ronn Wade, director of the Anatomical Services Division of the University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore.
“In a perfect world, they’d like to have a perfect body with perfect anatomy — or near perfect,” said Wade, whose program is among the largest in the nation, with a peak donation of some 1,800 bodies a year.
Studying obesity and other pathologies can come later, once students are familiar with the basics, he added.
Obese bodies are more difficult, time-consuming and unpleasant to study, said Wade, who also heads his state’s anatomy board. “Basically it’s having to get at the structures you want to see,” he said. “Between the skin and the rest, there’s layers and layers of fat cells.”
Only about a quarter of the bodies Wade receives meet the ideal criteria, he said. Perhaps 5 percent of them are morbidly obese.
Wade generally doesn’t reject them outright. But they won’t be used by medical students in first-year classes. They might wind up as clinical specimens used for practice by paramedics or other medical professionals. Some obese bodies can’t be used at all, so they’re simply cremated and the remains are returned to the families — without ever serving any research purpose.
So far, medical schools are still able to get enough lean bodies for students to use, experts said. Some programs use corpses from for-profit tissue brokers, which are loosely regulated and supply an unknown number of bodies each year.
Still, considering America’s growing girth, some experts are worried about the future.
Anderson, the director of the University of Louisville program, says he can’t use about 10 percent of the 175 to 200 bodies donated each year because of size problems.
He said he’s thought about upping the program’s weight limit from 200 pounds to 250 pounds to ensure a steady supply.
“If we keep it at 200, we may see that we’re turning down potential donors because of that,” he said.
Having to turn down any willing donor is a shame, said Drake, the Cleveland Clinic expert who is also an officer with the American Association of Anatomists. He doubted the family of the 6-foot-1, 350-pound man would find a program to accept his remains. Instead, they likely had to make other arrangements for the man’s disposition.
“It is an emotional thing,” he said. “People really do want to do this.”
“My mother died of esophageal cancer six years ago,” Parker-Pope wrote. “It was her great regret that in the days before she died, the closest medical school turned down her offer to donate her body because she was obese.”
Those who leave their remains to science tend to be sensitive folks interested in enhancing the public good, said Wade, the Maryland expert who has promoted whole body donation for more than 35 years.
At the end of a life perhaps spent struggling with weight, learning they’re too heavy to fulfill those altruistic wishes can be devastating.
“It’s kind of another stigma,” said Wade. “They kind of feel victimized.”
TRAUMA sometimes experienced during childbirth has been a problem faced by our ancestors for almost 4 million years. New evidence of pelvic damage in an ancient female skeleton shows we might be able to find signs of such injuries in the fossil record.
Humans are unique among hominids in having a birth canal that is nearly identical in size to the neonatal head. Inevitably, natural variation means some women have a pelvis that proves slightly too small for the job of childbirth. Yet ancient evidence of birth trauma is rare, says Susan Pfeiffer at the University of Toronto in Canada. She has now found an example of stress injury to the pelvis in the skeleton of a 2000-year-old female found in South Africa.
Young Russians no longer pay homage to him, but the Bolshevik leader ‘lives on’ in a carefully choreographed show of solemnity inside a Moscow mausoleum. But for how long?
In Moscow at this time every year the debate resumes about what to do with Lenin’s body, which, contrary to the Bolshevik’s wishes to be buried next to his mother, has lain in state in Red Square since his death on 21 January 1924. Last year, Prime Minister Putin held an online poll in which 70% of participants felt his body should be buried. That result yielded no decision either way (no doubt because it was not the one Putin had hoped for). Nevertheless, when I found myself in Moscow just before Christmas, I seized the opportunity to pay Lenin a visit while I still could. What I encountered was part reliquary, part freak show – and an impressive work of experience design, as stage-managed as anything in the London Dungeon.