Deathly days out: Forensics at the Wellcome Collection

Image: Wellcome Collection

Image: Wellcome Collection

How did the first crime scene investigators find clues? What can an autopsy tell us about a person’s last moments? If a body is stuffed into a suitcase, can maggots still get to it?

These questions and more are answered in a brilliantly morbid exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London (billed as the destination of choice for the “incurably curious”). Forensics: the Anatomy of Crime takes you on a journey over five rooms from crime scene to morgue, to laboratory and courtroom, exploring the many unusual ways forensics experts uncover evidence.

Of course, we at Deathly Ponderings just had to go along! It was utterly fascinating, and provided a rare look at real forensic items and techniques as well as historic photographs and archive material of some of the Victorian era’s most grizzly murders.

Image: Wellcome Collection

Image: Wellcome Collection

Bizarrely, the first thing we saw was an oddly-adorable dolls’ house. On further inspection, it was a mini model of a crime scene, known as a “nutshell study”: a brutal diorama used to teach criminology students in the skills of observation and inference.

The personal highlight for me was the “morgue” room, with specimens of skulls and brains with bullet wounds, and an original marble dissection table from the 1920s. You can sit and gaze at this slab while listening to the squelchy hacking sounds of a recorded autopsy, which makes for quite an unsettling experience.

Videos throughout the exhibit examine some of the questions about the forensics process, including one from the ever-wonderful Carla Valentine of St Bart’s Pathology Museum.

Image: Wellcome Collection

Image: Wellcome Collection

As well as forensics, the exhibit looked at how people respond to death, with sculptures inspired by victims of genocide and the intriguing Japanese art of Kusōzu, delicate paintings showing the body of a young woman in various stages of decomposition.

I don’t want to give too much else away, because this is an exhibition full of fascinating little details and you really need to experience it to get the full sense of being immersed in the world of forensics for a couple of hours. While you’re at the Wellcome Collection, the exhibitions on the other floors are also definitely worth checking out: I recommend the room of miscellanea from Henry Wellcome’s personal collection, including shrunken heads, preserved mummies and Napoleon’s toothbrush.

The exhibition is free and open Tuesdays-Sundays until 21 June. If you’re going to the Digital Legacy Conference looking at death and grief in the digital age, the Wellcome Collection is just around the corner, so you can do both!

Advertisements

Death in Cambridge: Medieval hospital burial ground unearthed

In my professional life, I work for Cambridge University doing media things. This story came up this week, and I thought it had relevance to our deathly interests. Enjoy!

F354 350 358 working small

Archaeological investigations have discovered one of Britain’s largest medieval hospital cemeteries, containing over 1,000 human remains, when excavating beneath the Old Divinity School at St John’s College. One of the largest medieval hospital burial grounds in Britain, containing an estimated 1,300 burials, once stood on the site of what is now part of St John’s College, according to a report published in the latest issue of the Archaeological Journal.

The report marks the first public release of evidence gathered by an archaeological dig beneath the Old Divinity School, conducted as part of the Victorian building’s refurbishment in 2010-2012. The report reveals that the complete skeletal remains of over 400 medieval burials were uncovered by a team from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, along with “disarticulated” and fragmentary remains of what could be as many as 1,000 more individuals. Images from the dig are available on the St John’s College website HERE.

Continue reading

Burials and cannibals and flints, oh my!

14029147072_05ef3327af_oAs part of our trip to London for an excellent CSI event, Ryan and I decided to visit the Natural History Museum’s temporary exhibition (on until 28th September 2014) called Britain: one million years of the human story.

It was quite wonderful and had many gorgeous specimens that have been excavated from around Britain, covering the various settlers of Britain: Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens. These specimens ranged from contemporary wildlife that these species would have hunted, plants that would have grown in these areas, and the tools that these species would have made to survive their environments.

Of course, with this being a death blog, I do have some highlights from the exhibition which I hope will encourage you to go along and visit!

Continue reading

Birthday cake and forensics

14032836084_f0601b005f_oSo, what did you do for your last birthday? I became a forensic scientist…but for one evening only.

Several months ago I noticed that the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London ran really interesting looking evening events, one of which was their extremely successful and award-winning Crime Scene Live. I mentioned an interest in going to Ryan and within seconds he had booked us on the April 2014 date, just in time for my birthday.

We arrived after the NHM had closed but there were still quite a few people in the galleries as they were running several evening events at the same time, with one of them involving a fascinating talk on cannibalism. I was rather jealous of the other groups but I knew that I had a forensics session to go to with my name on it!

Continue reading