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Lost Mummy returns to University of Maryland School of Medicine

Mummified body identified as part of historical collection five years after police foil attempt to sell remains to highest bidder in case reminiscent of the dark days of Burke and Hare.


It has recently been reported in the media that the mummified remains of a child thought lost by the University of Maryland School of Medicine has been found and returned to them after an absence of more than five years.

The remains are part of the Burns Collection, an accumulation of carefully-prepared anatomical specimens which are over two hundred years old and were collected by the eminent Scottish anatomist, Allen Burns, and transported from Scotland to the U.S.A. where they have remained in the care of the University of Maryland School of Medicine ever since. The collection is currently under the care of Dr. Ronn Wade, Director of the Anatomical Services Division of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who is also Director of the Maryland State Anatomy Board. This particular mummy went missing decades ago and then, some five years ago, was put up for sale on Ebay which eventually led to its identification and recovery. It had been languishing in police custody prior to its return to the University.

However, the attempt to sell bodies for financial gain is nothing new according to Leona Tyrie, producer of “The Body Merchants: The Shocking Truth about Anatomy Murder”, a DVD documentary produced by Orickle Limited, a Scottish media company. As Leona explains, “In the 1820’s, the city of Edinburgh in Scotland witnessed the horrific crimes of William Burke and William Hare, who murdered local citizens, young and old, and sold their bodies to a local medical school for dissection, pocketing the money for the proceeds of their crimes. In those days medicine was really in its infancy and there was an explosion in the numbers of students training to be doctors, surgeons and anatomists. However, only the bodies of executed criminals could be used for dissection and there simply weren’t enough bodies to go around. Burke and Hare spotted a gap in the market and local people in Edinburgh suddenly started to disappear, only to re-appear, dead, on the anatomist’s slab. Of course, because of the extreme need for fresh bodies upon which to practice, no-one asked any questions and thus the killing spree continued unabated.” 

It might have gone on indefinitely”, explained Leona, “but for the fact that Burke and Hare grew complacent and began to make mistakes which led to their arrest and imprisonment. “

“ I spent many hours researching the facts for this documentary and it includes a specially filmed section devoted to the bodies in the Burns collection together with expert commentary from Dr. Ronn Wade. It was during my research for this documentary,” continued Leona, “that I discovered that the selling of body parts for profit still continues to this day in certain parts of the world and that truly is shocking. It’s a fact of which most people are completely unaware, as I was too before my research. We like to believe that the days of Burke and Hare are long gone and that we live in much more enlightened times. Sadly however that is just not the case and it’s truly frightening to discover that in some parts of the world life is still as cheap now as it was two hundred years ago”.

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