New Research: Archaeologists Discover How Women’s Bodies Were Dissected In Victorian England

Cambridge archaeologists and biological anthropologists  Jenna Dittmar​ and collaborator Piers Mitchell have recently had their research on gender and dissection practices in Victorian England published in Forbes. As Kristina Killgrove​ writes:

“An assumption has long existed that 19th century doctors interested in dissection prized male cadavers over female, due to the greater average musculature in men’s bodies. A new analysis by two archaeologists, however, suggests that women and men may have been more equal in this postmortem practice than anyone realized.”

See below for the full article: “Archaeologists Discover How Women’s Bodies Were Dissected In Victorian England”

Here is the abstract for their original article:

“Since the medieval period, anatomical dissection has been considered a cornerstone of medical education. In recent decades, several archaeological excavations have uncovered evidence of this practice in the form of tool marks on human skeletal remains. At the majority of sites where dissected individuals were uncovered, remains of men considerably outnumbered those of women. The aim of this research is to investigate how postmortem treatment of medicalized bodies differed according to sex during the nineteenth century. To assess differences in treatment, the skeletal remains of dissected adult male (n = 74) and female (n = 25) individuals from the Royal London Hospital and the University of Cambridge were analyzed both macro-and microscopically. The location and orientation of the tool marks were recorded, and silicone molds (n = 41) of selected tool marks were analyzed using scanning electron microscopy. The assessment of the tool marks revealed no differences in how the bodies of men and women were dissected, nor were there any differences in the tools used. This finding suggests that the sociopolitical status of women, which necessitated their protected treatment during life, shifted drastically after death. Rather than a preference to dissect male bodies, the sex disparity in the archaeological record can be explained by the social roles of women, which made it less likely that they would die in hospitals or remain unclaimed from workhouses. However, the bodies of women that were dissected were not viewed as fragile or afforded protected status by anatomists, as they were dissected in the same manner as the bodies of men.”

Read the open access, original article in Bioarchaeology International here:…/article/view/836

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s