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Medieval Medical Experiments

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Learning about the oldest existing dead body used for medical experiments does not make me feel any less queasy about medieval Europe, but it is most certainly quite interesting. I’m not going to put the image up though. It’s kind of disturbing.

But radiocarbon dating put the specimen firmly in the 1200s, making it the oldest European anatomical preparation known. Most surprisingly, Charlier said, the veins and arteries are filled with a mixture of beeswax, lime and cinnabar mercury. This would have helped preserve the body as well as give the circulatory system some color, as cinnabar mercury has a red tint.

Thus, the man’s body was not simply dissected and tossed away; it was preserved, possibly for continued medical education, Charlier said. The man’s identity, however, is forever lost. He could have been a prisoner, an institutionalized person, or perhaps a pauper whose body was never claimed, the researchers write this month in the journal Archives of Medical Science.

The specimen, which is in private hands, is set to go on display at the Parisian Museum of the History of Medicine, Charlier said.

It’s kind of creepy to buy something like that. Do you display it in the front room for visitors? Use it to frighten children?

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