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Iron mortsafe, United Kingdom, 1801-1822

Bodies for dissection were in short supply in the early 1800s as only executed criminals could be dissected legally. In the United Kingdom, body-snatchers – also known as ‘resurrectionists’ – robbed the graves of the newly deceased, often in the middle of the night, and then sold the corpses on to anatomists. Those that could afford them might have chosen to use heavy iron mortsafes such as this one to protect coffins and their occupants. First appearing around 1816, they came in a range of designs. In this example, the sheer weight of the lid was expected to put off even the most desperate body-snatcher.

Object number:

A600162 Pt1


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    Techniques and Technologies:


    Glossary: anatomy

    A branch of medical science concerned with the structure of living organisms.

    Glossary: dissection

    The cutting apart and separation of body tissues for the purposes of critical examination. Dissection of corpses is often carried out for the study of anatomy.

    Glossary: mortsafe

    A stone or iron vault that protects a coffin or grave. Most common in the 1800s, its invention was supposedly a response to grave-robbing by medical students searching for bodies to dissect.