The oldest known human dissection in Europe is a surprisingly sophisticated specimen consisting of an upper torso and head, with the vasculature clearly delineated by an injected amalgam of beeswax, lime and cinnabar. Said specimen belongs to my good friend Jessica Phillips who decided to share her rather grotesque but fascinating discovery with a group of friends in Toronto the year before last, before her unique collectable ended up on display at the Parisian Museum of the History of Medicine. Jessica co-starred with her late partner, Billy Jamieson, in the History Channel series “Treasure Trader”.
Carbon dating shows the specimen to date from somewhere between 1200 and 1280 AD which surprises many who believe serious anatomical science did not take place in Europe during the “Dark Ages”. Many believed the Catholic Church had banned human dissections at that time, but the fact is that the church would actually sometimes order “holy autopsies”. How do you think they got all those saintly body parts that grace cathedrals across Europe?
The brain of this specimen has been removed and what remains is detailed at least as well as some of the much more recent dissections I’d seen floating around in jars in the anatomy lab during my years in medical school.
Sure the specimen had been nibbled by a few rodents, and one or two bug larvae had migrated their way across the face…but considering how old it was the head looked surprisingly good.
Photos by George Burden – All Rights Reserved