grave robbing


Summary: Stealing of corpses after burial, especially for medical dissection. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in the absence of laws governing the acquisition of dissecting material for the study of anatomy, the needs of anatomy classes were met by surreptitious methods: body-snatching and grave robbing. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2d ed; from Garrison, An Introduction to the History of Medicine, 4th ed, p447; from Castiglioni, A History of Medicine, 2d ed, p676)

Top Publications

  1. Halperin E. The poor, the Black, and the marginalized as the source of cadavers in United States anatomical education. Clin Anat. 2007;20:489-95 pubmed
    ..Since the deterrence of grave robbing took time and money, those elements of society who were least economically and socially advantaged were the ..
  2. Richardson R. Bodily theft past and present: a tale of two sermons. Lancet. 2004;364 Suppl 1:s44-5 pubmed
  3. Tomasini F. Research on the recently dead: an historical and ethical examination. Br Med Bull. 2008;85:7-16 pubmed publisher
    ..Understanding this is timely in developing research and is relevant to the issue of consent around organ donation for transplants. ..
  4. Winkelmann A. Schlemm, the body snatcher?. Ann Anat. 2008;190:223-9 pubmed publisher
    ..information is largely lacking in this regard, it is impossible to decide whether Schlemm's episode of grave robbing was a solitary instance or a more common method of acquiring bodies for anatomical instruction in early 19th ..
  5. Tward A, Patterson H. MSJAMA. From grave robbing to gifting: cadaver supply in the United States. JAMA. 2002;287:1183 pubmed
  6. Lee K, McDonald S. Not modern-day body-snatching: the response of the public. Scott Med J. 2002;47:66-70 pubmed
    ..In the organ retention crisis, the parents of the children were more organised in supporting each other and in campaigning for change than were the public in the days of the resurrectionists. ..
  7. SHELTON D. Man-midwifery history: 1730-1930. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2012;32:718-23 pubmed publisher
    ..Any continuing endorsement of Smellie and Hunter effectively demeans the high ethical standards and reputation of current obstetric professionals. ..
  8. Dasgupta N. STUDENTJAMA. Unclaimed bodies at the anatomy table. JAMA. 2004;291:122 pubmed
  9. Johnson A. My friend Dr Knox: a pupil writes about the anatomist. Surgeon. 2005;3:407-10 pubmed

More Information


  1. Sappol M. The odd case of Charles Knowlton: anatomical performance, medical narrative, and identity in antebellum America. Bull Hist Med. 2009;83:460-98 pubmed publisher
    ..In both content and performance, the anatomical tale rehearsed the storyteller's structural relationship to patients, the public, colleagues and rivals, and, above all, made a claim to knowledge and mastery of the body. ..
  2. Magee R. Art macabre: resurrectionists and anatomists. ANZ J Surg. 2001;71:377-80 pubmed
    ..Therefore the latter became the source of a saleable commodity, and so the profession of grave robbing became established...
  3. Neher A. Robert Knox and the anatomy of beauty. Med Humanit. 2011;37:46-50 pubmed publisher
    ..This paper discusses how Knox's writings on anatomy and biology shaped his contributions to art theory. It is a first step towards returning Knox, the art theorist, to the cultural life of 19th century Britain. ..
  4. Mobus U, Demmler G, Dressler J. The body buried twice. Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2002;23:52-3 pubmed
    ..quot; A young person "exhumed" a child's body involved in a road accident because he wanted to test methods for preventing or slowing down the process of postmortem decay. ..
  5. McDonald S. Glasgow resurrectionists. Scott Med J. 1997;42:84-7 pubmed
    ..In the early 1830s, cholera riots and the fear of "burking" led to the Anatomy Bill of 1832 receiving the Royal Assent. ..
  6. Garment A, Lederer S, Rogers N, Boult L. Let the dead teach the living: the rise of body bequeathal in 20th-century America. Acad Med. 2007;82:1000-5 pubmed
    ..Whether American medical schools will receive enough bodies to properly educate students in the future remains to be seen. ..
  7. Gill G, Burrell S, Brown J. Fear and frustration--the Liverpool cholera riots of 1832. Lancet. 2001;358:233-7 pubmed
    ..On this occasion the cause was not cholera, but rather the reports from Alder Hey Children's Hospital that organ parts from deceased infants undergoing necropsy had been kept for several years without parental consent. ..
  8. Murad T, Murad T. The postmortem fate of Pat Gregory: a disinterred Native American. J Forensic Sci. 2000;45:488-94 pubmed
    ..This report addresses the conclusions of that analysis and the disposition of the case. Furthermore, the report addresses the forensic value to Native Americans of the continued study of a wide variety of human skeletal remains. ..