The audio isn’t the greatest in this clip, but it’s fascinating all the same – it captures the moment when British forensic pathologists discovered the wound that killed Richard III.
As anyone with even a vague interest in pop culture knows, celebrity autopsies are nothing new. But they’re older than a lot of people imagine. The first autopsy recorded in Western history took place in 44 BCE, when Roman physician Antistius determined which of Julius Caesar’s 23 stab wounds actually killed him. The science of autopsy took a long time to develop, though. For centuries, scientists were forbidden to study the inner workings of the human body, and without that knowledge base, it was often difficult to tell the difference between natural deaths and unnatural ones.
Detailed studies of human anatomy began in the 16th century, and by the 19th century, rapid advances in both forensic pathology (autopsy) and forensic anthropology (the study of bones) were being made by European and North American doctors. While things in the real world are never quite as easy as they appear on shows like CSI and Bones, these techniques are powerful crime fighting tools, and the foundation of many forensic investigations.
Want to know more about the history of and techniques used in autopsies? Check out my new book, Forensic Science: In Pursuit of Justice, available now.
And welcome to Forensics February! As a lead up to March public events celebrating both Fuzzy Forensics and Forensic Science: In Pursuit of Justice, all my Mad Scientist Monday posts this month will have a forensic science theme.
If you’re in Nova Scotia, consider joining me at my in-person Forensics Squared book launch, March 18 at the Tantallon Public Library. If you’re not, you can still join in the fun – I’m teaming up with three other amazing science writers to host a virtual book party called Spring Break Into Science – March 7. It’s on Facebook, so everyone’s welcome!