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

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

5 historical figures whose heads have been stolen

An iconic scene of the shadow of Count Orlok climbing up a staircase. Image from Wikipedia. The graves of famous people have been plundered for hundreds of years. Bodies and body parts have been stolen by guards trusted to keep corpses safe, scientists determined to study them, and even admirers with good intentions (i.e. Thomas Paine). Skulls are usually the part of the body that is the most sought after because of its scientific value or appeal as a trophy. Recently grave robbers looted the burial plot of the man who directed Nosferatu in 1922. On July 13th, workers at the Stahnsdorf cemetery discovered that the Murnau family plot had been disturbed. After a closer look at the grave they found that the head of famous director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau had been stolen from his metal coffin (Smith 2015). Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (1888-1931) is the director of the legendary […] Read More