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‘Useful Ornaments to His Cabinet’: An Analysis of Anatomical Study and Display in Colonial Williamsburg

Author(s): Ellen Chapman

Year: 2014

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Most published research on the study of anatomy in colonial America has focused on the extensive grave-robbing practices during the late 18th and 19th centuries, which were driven by the demand for cadavers in medical schools and sparked public unrest and riots. However, my bioarchaeological analysis of remains from mid-18th century Virginia reveals that practices of dissection and anatomical preparations were quite different in the decades before the establishment of the first American medical schools. This paper presents isolated human remains recovered from refuse pits at two urban Williamsburg sites, the Brush-Everard House and the Cary Peyton Armistead House, which represent examples of anatomical preparations and dissections. Combined with existing archaeological, historical, and biographical research into Williamsburg’’s colonial period, these isolated finds shed light on the development of professionalized medicine, economic and social competition, and attitudes towards scientific knowledge in colonial America.

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‘Useful Ornaments to His Cabinet’: An Analysis of Anatomical Study and Display in Colonial Williamsburg. Ellen Chapman. Presented at Society for Historical Archaeology, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. 2014 ( tDAR id: 436654)

Record Identifiers

PaperId(s): SYM-9,08

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America