Detailed Anatomy Drawings End Body Snatching

By Bill Kray

Today, if you wish to learn about human structures, you can purchase anatomy posters from this website or take a class at a community college. Medical equipment like MRI machines also provide glimpses into human anatomy. These avenues were not accessible a few hundred years ago during the age of the literal body snatchers (not the movie), when there was an intense craving to study bodily function. Note the following excerpt by Mary Roach in her book The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

   The Body Snatcher   - Boris Karloff

The Body Snatcher - Boris Karloff

In order to cope with the impending shortages of cadavers and the rise in medical students during the 17th and 18th centuries, body-snatching and even anatomy murder were practiced to obtain cadavers. Body snatching, as it has come to be referred to, was the act of sneaking into a graveyard, digging up a corpse and using it for study. Men known as “resurrectionists” emerged as outside parties, who would steal corpses for a living and sell the bodies to anatomy schools.

The British Parliament passed the Anatomy Act 1832, which finally provided for an adequate and legitimate supply of corpses by allowing legal dissection of executed murderers. The view of anatomist at the time, however, became similar to that of an executioner. Having one's body dissected was seen as a punishment worse than death, “if you stole a pig, you were hung. If you killed a man, you were hung and then dissected.” Demand grew so great that some anatomists resorted to dissecting their own family members (William Harvey dissected his own father and sister) as well as robbing bodies from their graves. [1]

In the 15th century, Leonardo Da Vinci dissected around thirty human specimens until he was forced to stop under order of Pope Leo X. His 750 drawings represent studies of bones, skin, muscles and many internal organs. [2]

5 Creepy Ways People Make Money on Death

  • Dead Peasant Insurance: certain companies will pay into life insurance policies for their low-level employees so they can collect tax-free death benefits in case any of them die.
  • Grave Robbing: To sell human bones
  • Grave Site Tours: In Cambodia, people pay to visit Pol Pot’s grave
  • Corpses for Cash: In China, boatsmen fish out suicide bodies from rivers, sell back to families
  • Dead Baby Scam: Posting pictures of dead babies (fake), asking for burial donations.

The Business of Death Infographic

  1. Roach, Mary (2003). Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. New York: W.W. Norton. pp. 37–57.
  2. Gasciogne, Bamber. "History of Anatomy". History World. Retrieved 30 Oct. 2013.

Bill Kray

Los Angeles, United States

Vegetarian health advocate, graphic designer, illustrator, programmer and prolific blog writer.

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