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Monday, July 15, 2024
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EditorialsUp Front 02/13

Up Front 02/13

Over the Christmas break, although suffering from that seasonal illness that only men can understand, I shook the hand of a man who was born in 1788. I say hand but actually it was more bone and sinew. It was attached to the right arm of a pugilist named Dan Donnelly, whose body had been stolen from its grave after his death in 1820 and sold for use in medical research. As he was quite a famous pugilist there was a public outcry, and his body—for some reason minus his right arm—was returned to the grave. After a spell in travelling shows and a further spell in someone’s attic, the arm fell into the hands of my family and has recently returned home from a tour of various museums around the world. Although I grew up seeing it nearly every day, I can’t ever recall touching it before, as it was in a glass case on display in the family business. I’m told it was preserved by a process using red lead, which gives it a wooden look—though in feel it is nothing like wood, and strangely not as gruesome as one might expect. It hails from an era when there was quite an industry in grave robbing in the name of medical research and recent news that there is currently a shortage of skeletons available for teaching purposes might tempt one to think the practise could begin again. However Dr Tim Thompson, a reader in biological and forensic anthropology at Teesside University, has founded a company called Anthronomics to help students of skeletal anatomy. The first product is a range of incredibly detailed 3d models of bones. Students simply download the ones they want, load them up in a purpose-built viewing programme and study away. Dr Thompson admits that perhaps it is not as good as the real thing but until a method of finding more skeletons is found he sees it as a good alternative. In the meantime, Dan’s right arm has been put back into a vault somewhere near Dublin. They’re not getting him again.

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