The Allan Burns mummies

A history and future prospect of an anatomical collection

J. Lee, G. Štrkalj*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Abstract

Acquiring adequate resources for anatomy education has represented a challenge throughout the discipline's long history. A significant number of collections housed in anatomy departments contain human tissue of unknown provenance with some obtained in morally dubious ways. This paper outlines the history and future prospects of one such anatomical assemblage - the Burns Anatomical Collection, currently housed at the University of Maryland (UM). The collection originally contained more than 1000 anatomically prepared mummified human remains. They were produced by the renowned Scottish anatomist Allan Burns in Glasgow in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The prepared cadavers became a commodity and after Burns' death, were acquired by his pupil Granville Pattison, who later sold them to the UM. While the origin of these human remains is unknown, historical data suggests that most of the cadavers for the collection were obtained through grave robbing. While intensely used in anatomy teaching in the nineteenth century, specimens from the collection should now be treated primarily as historical artifacts, appropriate only for teaching medical history and ethics. Other perspectives may include repatriating and reburying the human remains and providing a memorial service. Most importantly, this collection and others similar to it should initiate dialog and reflection on the ethical aspects of the past and present medical practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-241
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Postgraduate Medicine
Volume63
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017

Keywords

  • Allan Burns
  • anatomy
  • history of medicine
  • medical education

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