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Much of what we know about the human anatomy comes from dissecting human cadavers. The practice goes back to classical antiquity. The Greeks and the Romans carried out human dissection, and so did ancient medicine men in India. In Europe, the practice flourished in the 18th and 19th century with a new found medical interest in detailed anatomy, thanks to an increase in the importance of surgery.

Back then, and prior to the Anatomy Act of 1832, the only legal supply of corpses were those condemned to death and dissection by the courts. Executions were common in those days. Hundreds were hanged or guillotined for trivial crimes. But by turn of the 19th century, the number of criminals sentenced to capital punishment came down drastically creating a serious shortage of cadavers needed in order to study anatomy. This ushered in the practice of grave digging, where body snatchers or "resurrectionists" would dig up dead bodies and sell them to medical schools.


Photo credit: Alan Longmuir/Flickr

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