The Study of Human Remains in the University of Oxford

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The interest in human bodies and their anatomy has a long history in Oxford University – ever since the establishment of the Regius Professor of Medicine by Henry VIII. The dissections performed at first in the Anatomy School, then the newly built Ashmolean Museum, later on, at Christ Church Anatomical Museum, and finally at the University Museum, contributed to the growing number of human specimens, both osteological and soft tissues preparations, dry and preserved in alcohol. In the nineteenth century the worldwide network of collaborators of Linacre Professor, George Rolleston, made the holdings one of the biggest in this country. Rolleston was spurred on by and deeply involved in the Darwinian debate concerning the brain anatomy of humans and apes. Greenwell, Thurnam, and Pitt Rivers were some of the big names connected with the specimens and ideas on the practice and teaching of anthropology. The history of collectors, collecting, purchasing and exchange of human remains throws a light on the reasons and methods of the early anthropologists and the rise and fall of the importance of those specimens in anthropological research.

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