A 13th Century Guide to Forensic Anthropology

Names of human bones in Sung Tz’u’s The Washing Away of Wrongs, 1843 edition, edited by Ruǎn Qíxīn. Image from Wikipedia The oldest existing forensic science text is The Washing Away of Wrongs (also known as the Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified, or Hsi yuan chi lu), written around 1247 CE. Sung Tz’u (or Song Ci), who is considered to be the “Founding Father of Forensic Science in China,” wrote this text to help bureaucrats of the Southern Sung Dynasty navigate the complex inquest process, provide instructions on how examine a corpse, and determine cause of death.  This forensic manual predates the earliest European texts on the subject by hundreds of years. By the time The Washing Away of Wrongs was written in the mid-thirteenth century China had already been conducting forensic assessments for violent or suspicious deaths for centuries. Going as far back to at least the Ch’in Dynasty […] Read More

Dozens of ghost ships found off the coast of Japan

Ghost ships are vessels found adrift at sea with its crew either dead or missing under mysterious circumstances. They appear in folklore and historical accounts. Probably the most famous fictional ghost ship is the Flying Dutchman, the legend of which dates to the 18th century. Phantom vessels like the Mary Celeste, the HMS Resolute, and the SS Orang Medan are also very real occurrences that have been sighted throughout history.   So it’s no surprise that ghost ships have been found in the waters near Japan, what’s shocking is the frequency they have been recovered. The Japanese Coast Guard has reported 34 ghost ships in 2015, 65 vessels in 2014, and 80 in 2013. According to CNN, over the past two months more than a dozen ghost ships, carrying the remains of at least 22 people, have been found off the coast of Japan. All of the bodies were male […] Read More

How to make honey infused corpse medicine

Corpse medicine was a type of remedy produced with the bones, organs, and blood from dead bodies. It is mentioned in ancient medical texts and histories from Greece, China, Mesopotamia, and India. One of the more peculiar accounts of corpse medicine comes from the 16th century Chinese materia medica, also known as the Bencao gangmu, written by Li-Shih-chen. In the Bencao gangmu, Li-Shih-chen describes an ancient Arabic recipe to make a medicine called “mellified man.” To make “mellified man,” an elderly man volunteered to mummify himself from the inside out with honey until he died, then his corpse was placed in a coffin filled with honey. After 100 years, his coffin was opened so his remains were harvested for medicine. “In Arabia there are men 70 to 80 years old who are willing to give their bodies to save others. The subject does not eat food, he only bathes […] Read More

The vampire slayings of 19th century New England

The Vampire by Sir Philip Burne-Jones, ca. 1897. Image credit: Wikipedia The vampire myth originates in ancient beliefs in demons or evil spirits who feed on the blood and flesh of the living. Cultures all over the world have a version of a blood-sucking creature that returns from the grave to torment and feed on people. The creatures in these ancient myths eventually gave way to bloated folkloric vampires that spread disease and the charismatic fictional vampires that consume the living and give eternal life. In New England in the 19th century so many people believed that their dead family members were climbing out of their graves to kill relatives that the issue was addressed by incredulous academics and reporters in journals and newspaper articles. According to Paul Barber, author of Vampires, Burial & Death, there are two types of vampires: folkloric and fictional. Fictional vampires are supernatural creatures […] Read More