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Anatomy: A Matter of Life and Death exhibition explored the history of anatomical study, from artistic explorations by Leonardo da Vinci to the Burke and Hare murders.

Charting 500 years of medical exploration, the Anatomy: A Matter of Death and Life exhibition considered the social and medical history surrounding the dissection of human bodies. It examined the role anatomy played in the Enlightenment, uncovers the links between science and crime in the early 19th century, and considers approaches to anatomical study today.

Delve a little deeper into some of the stories that featured in the exhibition, from the mystery of the Arthurs Seat Coffins to the Recipes, Remedies and Charms used to cure ailments.

Mary Docherty Landscape

Who was the murdered woman under the straw?

On 1 November 1828, James and Ann Gray discovered the body of a woman under straw bedding in a room in the West Port area of Edinburgh.

Who was Mary Docherty?

Writing the names for a Book of Remembrance

The Book of Remembrance holds the name of every person who has donated their body to the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomy Department from 2000 to 2021. Professional calligrapher Annette Reed describes her work and what a privilege it is to write the names of body donors in the Book of Remembrance.

Watch Annette Reed's calligraphy
Collection Of Miniature Coffins With Lids And Carved Figures, Found In 1836 02. Photo © National Museums Scotland.

The mystery of the miniature coffins

Satanic spell, superstitious charm or echo of Edinburgh’s grisly underworld history? We examine the theories put forward to explain the strange tale of these tiny coffins, discovered on Arthur’s Seat almost 200 years ago.

Read the baffling mystery
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Edinburgh at the time of Burke and Hare

Delve into the streets and dwellings of Edinburgh’s Old Town in late 18th and early 19th century. Discover what life was like at the time of Burke and Hare and understand what drove them to commit murder.

Explore life in Edinburgh
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Recipes remedies and charms

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Scotland did not have the health provisions that we have today. Physicians were used by the wealthy but the majority of people made use of home remedies and charms to cure illnesses.

What would you use to cure an illness?
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