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Body Snatching & Grave Robbing: Bodies for Science

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This paper parallels the history of body snatching for dissection in the United States with the robbing of Native American graves by nineteenth‐century anthropologists for osteological collections. The implications of the similarities revealed are discussed; specifically whether ethical responsibilities to the deceased were being upheld by researchers and how these practices were maintained through the exploitation of marginalized members of society. In both cases, bodies were commodified in the grave (interred as people and later extracted as resources) and clandestinely acquired, studied and then disposed of or stored away. For doctors, the traffic in cadavers ended when voluntary donation of bodies to science increased in the twentieth century. For anthropologists the situation has been reversed, as they now face the potential destruction of their skeletal collections as a result of legal reforms such as NAGRPA.
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Keywords: African‐American; Dissection; Native American; Osteology; Repatriation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2005

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