15 November 2012


The burial practice of covering graves with elaborate ironwork cages raises the question -- what protective function did they serve? Were they designed to keep something in ... or something out?

From the Columbia County Historical & Genealogical Society Newsletter:
... the cages are mortsafes, structures intended to prevent the theft of a body for use by anatomy instructors, doctors or medical students who at the time had no legal source of cadavers for their work. This was a serious problem, now all but forgotten, throughout most of the 18th and 19th centuries not just in this country but also in the British Isles. Other kinds of mortsafes were used as well and examples of some of them may be seen in [Columbia County, Pennsylvania.]
The iron cage mortsafe was prevalent in Scotland before 1830, but most were removed after passage of the Warburton Anatomy Act provided a legal source of anatomical material and ended the need for body snatching in Great Britain. The few remaining mortsafes in Scotland today are now billed as tourist attractions.
Via Unlacing the Victorians

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