Saturday, 29 April 2017

An Early History of Forensic Entomology, 1300-1900

How Insects Started Solving Crimes





by Debbie Hadley
Updated April 15, 2017

In recent decades, the use of entomology as a tool in forensic investigations has become fairly routine. The field of forensic entomology has a much longer history than you might suspect, dating all the way back to the 13th century.

THE FIRST CRIME SOLVED BY FORENSIC ENTOMOLOGY
The earliest known case of a crime being solved using insect evidence comes from medieval China. In 1325, the Chinese lawyer Sung Ts'u wrote a textbook on criminal investigations called The Washing Away of Wrongs.

In his book, Ts'u recounts the story of a murder near a rice field. The victim had been slashed repeatedly, and investigators suspected the weapon used was a sickle, a common tool used in the rice harvest. How could the murderer be identified, when so many workers carried these tools?

The local magistrate brought all the workers together and told them to lay down their sickles. Though all the tools looked clean, one quickly attracted hordes of flies. The flies could sense the residue of blood and tissue invisible to the human eye. When confronted by this jury of flies, the murderer confessed to the crime.

DISPELLING THE MYTH OF SPONTANEOUS GENERATION OF MAGGOTS
Just as people once thought the world was flat and the Sun revolved around the Earth, people used to think maggots would arise spontaneously out of rotting meat. Italian physician Francesco Redi finally proved the connection between flies and maggots in 1668.

Redi compared two groups of meat: the first left exposed to insects, and the second group covered by a barrier of gauze. In the exposed meat, flies laid eggs, which quickly hatched into maggots. On the gauze-covered meat, no maggots appeared, but Redi observed fly eggs on the outer surface of the gauze.

ESTABLISHING A RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CADAVERS AND ARTHROPODS
In the 1700 and 1800's, physicians in both France and Germany observed mass exhumations of corpses. The French doctors M. Orfila and C. Lesueur published two handbooks on exhumations, in which they noted the presence of insects on the exhumed cadavers. Some of these arthropods were identified to species in their 1831 publication. This work established a relationship between specific insects and decomposing bodies.

Fifty years later, the German doctor Reinhard used a systematic approach to study this relationship. Reinhard exhumed bodies to collect and identify the insects present with the bodies. He specifically noted the presence of phorid flies, which he left to an entomology colleague to identify.

USING THE SUCCESSION OF INSECTS TO DETERMINE A POSTMORTEM INTERVAL
By the 1800's, scientists knew that certain insects would inhabit decomposing bodies. Interest now turned to the matter of succession. Physicians and legal investigators began questioning which insects would appear first on a cadaver, and what their life cycles could reveal about a crime.

In 1855, French doctor Bergeret d'Arbois was the first to use insect succession to determine the postmortem interval of human remains.

A couple remodeling their Paris home uncovered the mummified remains of a child behind the mantelpiece. Suspicion immediately fell on the couple, though they had only recently moved into the house.

Bergeret, who autopsied the victim, noted evidence of insect populations on the corpse. Using methods similar to those employed by forensic entomologists today, he concluded that the body had been placed behind the wall years earlier, in 1849. Bergeret used what was known about insect life cycles and successive colonization of a corpse to arrive at this date. His report convinced police to charge the previous tenants of the home, who were subsequently convicted of the murder.

French veterinarian Jean Pierre Megnin spent years studying and documenting the predictability of insect colonization in cadavers.

In 1894, he published La Faune des Cadavres, the culmination of his medico-legal experience. In it, he outlined eight waves of insect succession that could be applied during investigations of suspicious deaths. Megnin also noted that buried corpses were not susceptible to this same series of colonization. Just two stages of colonization invaded these cadavers.

Modern forensic entomology draws on the observations and studies of all these pioneers.

https://www.thoughtco.com/forensic-entomology-early-history-1300-1901-1968325

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Europe’s Famed Bog Bodies Are Starting to Reveal Their Secrets


High-tech tools divulge new information about the mysterious and violent fates met by these corpses

By Joshua Levine, Photographs by Christian Als
If you’re looking for the middle of nowhere, the Bjaeldskovdal bog is a good place to start. It lies six miles outside the small town of Silkeborg in the middle of Denmark’s flat, sparse Jutland peninsula. The bog itself is little more than a spongy carpet of moss, with a few sad trees poking out. An ethereal stillness hangs over it. A child would put it more simply: This place is really spooky.

I drove here on a damp March day with Ole Nielsen, director of the Silkeborg Museum. We tramped out to a desolate stretch of bog, trying to keep to the clumps of ocher-colored grass and avoid the clingy muck between them. A wooden post was planted to mark the spot where two brothers, Viggo and Emil Hojgaard, along with Viggo’s wife, Grethe, all from the nearby village of Tollund, struck the body of an adult man while they cut peat with their spades on May 6, 1950. The dead man wore a belt and an odd cap made of skin, but nothing else. Oh yes, there was also a plaited leather thong wrapped tightly around his neck. This is the thing that killed him. His skin was tanned a deep chestnut, and his body appeared rubbery and deflated. Otherwise, Tollund Man, as he would be called, looked pretty much like you and me, which is astonishing considering he lived some 2,300 years ago.

The first time I saw him in his glass case at the Silkeborg Museum, a kind of embarrassed hush came over me, as if I had intruded on a sacred mystery. Apparently, this happens frequently. “Most people get very silent,” says Nielsen. “Some people faint, but that’s rare.”

What really gets you is his lovely face with its closed eyes and lightly stubbled chin. It is disconcertingly peaceful for someone who died so violently. You’d swear he’s smiling, as if he’s been dreaming sweetly for all those centuries. “It’s like he could wake up at any moment and say, ‘Oh, where was I?’” says Nielsen, who has clearly fallen under Tollund Man’s spell himself. “Looking at his face, you feel you could take a trip back 2,300 years to meet him. I would like to put a USB plug into his well-preserved brain and download everything that’s on it, but that’s impossible. He’s reluctant to answer.”

Reluctant perhaps, but not altogether unwilling. Archaeologists have been asking the same questions since the Hojgaards first troubled Tollund Man’s long sleep: Who are you? Where did you come from? How did you live? Who murdered you and why? But the way the researchers ask the questions, using new forensic techniques like dual-energy CT scanners and strontium tests, is getting more sophisticated all the time. There’s new hope that, sometime soon, he may start to speak.

Scholars tend to agree that Tollund Man’s killing was some kind of ritual sacrifice to the gods—perhaps a fertility offering. To the people who put him there, a bog was a special place. While most of Northern Europe lay under a thick canopy of forest, bogs did not. Half earth, half water and open to the heavens, they were borderlands to the beyond. To these people, will-o’-the-wisps—flickering ghostly lights that recede when approached—weren’t the effects of swamp gas caused by rotting vegetation. They were fairies. The thinking goes that Tollund Man’s tomb may have been meant to ensure a kind of soggy immortality for the sacrificial object.

“When he was found in 1950,” says Nielsen, “they made an X-ray of his body and his head, so you can see the brain is quite well-preserved. They autopsied him like you would do an ordinary body, took out his intestines, said, yup it’s all there, and put it back. Today we go about things entirely differently. The questions go on and on.”

Lately, Tollund Man has been enjoying a particularly hectic afterlife. In 2015, he was sent to the Natural History Museum in Paris to run his feet through a microCT scan normally used for fossils. Specialists in ancient DNA have tapped Tollund Man’s femur to try to get a sample of the genetic material. They failed, but they’re not giving up. Next time they’ll use the petrous bone at the base of the skull, which is far denser than the femur and thus a more promising source of DNA.

Then there’s Tollund Man’s hair, which may end up being the most garrulous part of him. Shortly before I arrived, Tollund Man’s hat was removed for the first time to obtain hair samples. By analyzing how minute quantities of strontium differ along a single strand, a researcher in Copenhagen hopes to assemble a road map of all the places Tollund Man traveled in his lifetime. “It’s so amazing, you can hardly believe it’s true,” says Nielsen.
Eleven-year-old John Kauslund recalled his family spading up their bog find. “There’s something strange in here,” his mother told the boy. (Christian Als)
Tollund Man is the best-looking and best-known member of an elite club of preserved cadavers that have come to be known as “bog bodies.” These are men and women (also some adolescents and a few children) who were laid down long ago in the raised peat bogs of Northern Europe—mostly Denmark, Germany, England, Ireland and the Netherlands. Cashel Man, the community’s elder statesman, dates to the Bronze Age, around 2,000 B.C., giving him a good 700 years on King Tut. But his age makes him an outlier. Radiocarbon dating tells us that the greater number of bog bodies went into the moss some time in the Iron Age between roughly 500 B.C. and A.D. 100. The roster from that period is a bog body Who’s Who: Tollund Man, Haraldskjaer Woman, Grauballe Man, Windeby Girl, Lindow Man, Clonycavan Man and Oldcroghan Man.

They can keep speaking to us from beyond the grave because of the environment’s singular chemistry. The best-preserved bodies were all found in raised bogs, which form in basins where poor drainage leaves the ground waterlogged and slows plant decay. Over thousands of years, layers of sphagnum moss accumulate, eventually forming a dome fed entirely by rainwater. A raised bog contains few minerals and very little oxygen, but lots of acid. Add in low Northern European temperatures, and you have a wonderful refrigerator for conserving dead humans.

A body placed here decomposes extremely slowly. Soon after burial, the acid starts tanning the body’s skin, hair and nails. As the sphagnum moss dies, it releases a carbohydrate polymer called sphagnan. It binds nitrogen, halting growth of bacteria and further mummifying the corpse. But sphagnan also extracts calcium, leached out of the body’s bones. This helps to explain why, after a thousand or so years of this treatment, a corpse ends up looking like a squished rubber doll.

Nobody can say for sure whether the people who buried the bodies in the bog knew that the sphagnum moss would keep those bodies intact. It appears highly unlikely—how would they? Still, it is tempting to think so, since it fits so perfectly the ritualistic function of bog bodies, perhaps regarded as emissaries to the afterworld.

Besides, there’s also the odd business of bog butter. Bodies weren’t the only things that ended up in the bogs of Northern Europe. Along with wooden and bronze vessels, weapons and other objects consecrated to the gods, there was also an edible waxy substance made out of dairy or meat. Just this past summer, a turf-cutter found a 22-pound hunk of bog butter in County Meath, Ireland. It is thought to be 2,000 years old, and while it smells pretty funky, this Iron Age comestible would apparently work just fine spread on 21st-century toast. Like the vessels and weapons, bog butter may have been destined for the gods, but scholars are just as likely to believe that the people who put it there were simply preserving it for later. And if they knew a bog would do this for butter, why not the human body too?

Much of what we know about bog bodies amounts to little more than guesswork and informed conjecture. The Bronze and Iron Age communities from which they come had no written language. There’s one thing we do know about them, because it is written on their flesh. Nearly all appear to have been killed, many with such savagery that it lends an air of grim purposefulness to their deaths. They’ve been strangled, hanged, stabbed, sliced and clobbered on the head. Some victims may have been murdered more than once in several different ways. Scholars have come to call this overkilling, and it understandably provokes no end of speculation. “Why would you stab someone in the throat and then strangle them?” wonders Vincent van Vilsteren, curator of archaeology at Drents Museum in Assen, the Netherlands, home of the bog body known as Yde Girl.

We may never get a clear answer, and it now seems unlikely that a single explanation can ever fit all the victims. But the question keeps gnawing at us and gives bog bodies their clammy grip on the imagination. For some strange reason, we identify. They are so alarmingly normal, these bog folk. You think, there but for the grace of the goddess went I.





Bog Borderlands

(Map Credit: Guilbert Gates)

According to the old stories, the Viking king Harald Bluetooth of Denmark enticed Gunhild over from Norway to be his bride. When she arrived, however, he drowned her and laid her deep in Gunnelsmose (Gunhild’s Bog). This explanation was not only accepted when Petersen first advanced it in 1835, it was celebrated; Queen Gunhild became a reality star. Around 1836, Denmark’s King Frederick VI personally presented her with an oak coffin, and she was displayed as a kind of Viking trophy in the Church of St. Nicholas in Vejle.

Among the few dissident voices was that of a scrappy student, J.J.A. Worsaae, one of the principal founders of prehistoric archaeology. Worsaae believed the folklore-based identification was hooey. He argued persuasively that the woman found in Harald­skjaer Fen should be grouped with other Iron Age bog bodies. In 1977, carbon dating proved him right: Harald­skjaer Woman—no longer referred to as Queen Gunhild—had lived during the fifth century B.C. Moreover, a second postmortem in the year 2000 found a thin line around her neck that had gone undetected. She had not been drowned but strangled. This changed everything, except perhaps for the victim.

**********

In the absence of hard evidence, the temptation to weave bog bodies into a national narrative proved hard to resist. The most notorious effort to lay claim to the bog bodies came in the mid-1930s, when the Nazis repurposed them to buttress their own Aryan my­thology. By this time, two views prevailed. It was largely accepted that the majority of bog bodies dated to the Bronze and Iron Ages, but their murder was ascribed either to ritual sacrifice or criminal punishment. This latter interpretation rested heavily on the writings of the Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus, whose Germania, written in A.D. 98, portrays social customs in the northern parts of the empire.

On the whole, Tacitus thought highly of the local inhabitants. He praised their forthrightness, bravery, simplicity, devotion to their chieftains and restrained sexual habits, which frowned on debauchery and favored monogamy and fidelity. These were the noble savages the Nazis wanted to appropriate as direct forebears, and Heinrich Himmler, head of the Gestapo and the SS, established an archaeological institute, the Ahnenerbe, to justify that claim “scientifically.”

To the researchers at the Ahnenerbe, bog bodies were the remains of degenerates who had betrayed the ancient code. In a key passage, Tacitus writes: “The punishment varies to suit the crime. Traitors and deserters are hanged on trees; the cowardly, the unwarlike and those who disgrace their bodies are drowned in miry swamps under a cover of wicker.” Professor and SS-Untersturmfuhrer Karl August Eckhardt interpreted this last phrase to mean homosexuals. It was just a hop from here to the Nazis’ ferocious persecution of gay people.

“The Ahnenerbe’s was the dominant theory of bog bodies at the time, and it was dangerous to question it,” says Morten Ravn, a Danish curator who has published a historical overview of bog body research. One of the few who dared was a historian of culture named Alfred Dieck, who perhaps felt himself protected by his own Nazi Party membership. Dieck’s research demonstrated that bog bodies came from too wide an area over too long a span of time to represent proto-Germanic legal practice. But the man who torpedoed the Aryan theory of bog bodies was prevented from working as an archaeologist after the war because of his Nazi past. Ravn says, “He was really quite an unfortunate person.”

**********

Shortly after Tollund Man was discovered, the detective in charge of what was initially a missing persons investigation had the good sense to call in Peter Vilhelm Glob, who had recently been appointed professor of archaeology at the university in Aarhus, the nearest big city. P. V. Glob, as everyone refers to him, has stamped his name more deeply than anyone else on the riddle of the bog bodies. His book, The Bog People—to the bighearted Glob, they were people, not bodies—was hailed as a modest masterpiece when it appeared in 1965. It is sharp, authoritative and moving all at once, and it remains intensely readable. Glob, who died in 1985, succeeded not only in providing the scaffolding for our understanding of Tollund Man and his kin, but in restoring their humanity as well. He conjured bog bodies back to life and made the world take notice of them. It was Glob who introduced Seamus Heaney to Tollund Man.

In Glob’s view, Tollund Man and most of the others were sacrificed to Nerthus, the Earth Mother, to ensure a good crop. We can see the goddess paraded around, surrounded by fabulous animals, on the great silver Gundestrup cauldron, buried as a sacrifice in a Danish bog not far from where several Iron Age bodies were also found. Glob notes pointedly that the cauldron’s goddesses all wear neck rings and twisted bands on their foreheads—“like the ropes round the necks of sacrificed bog men.”

They were strung up at winter’s end or early spring. We know Tollund Man was hanged, from the mark of the leather high up on his throat; “if he was strangled, it would have been lower down,” Ole Nielsen explains. And we know roughly the time of year when this occurred from the seasonal contents found in his stomach and that of other victims: barley, linseed and knotweed, among others, but no strawberries, blackberries, apples or hips from summer and autumn.

The ominous conclusion is clear, Glob informs us: The winter gruel was a special last supper intended to hasten the coming of spring, “on just such occasions that bloody human sacrifices reached a peak in the Iron Age.”

Glob is fine—much better than fine—as far as he goes, but he doesn’t go nearly far enough, as he would no doubt agree. “I’m still trying to get nearer to Tollund Man,” says Ole Nielsen. “In my view, he could have been a willing victim, perhaps chosen from childhood—I see nothing degrading about that. Or maybe they drew straws—‘Oh damn! Well, better you than me!’

“If we had his DNA, maybe we could say where he came from—his clan, from the north, from Greece, wherever. Could he drink milk? Was he prone to diabetes? What about arteriosclerosis? That’s one of the reasons we sent him for a microCT scan in Paris, to look into his arteries.”



Tollund Man, discovered in a bog in 1950 near Silkeborg, Denmark, initially was thought to be the victim of a recent murder. (Christian Als)

Tollund Man
In 1950, Tollund Man’s discoverers “found a face so fresh they could only suppose they had stumbled on a recent murder.” (Christian Als)

By Joshua Levine, Photographs by Christian Als

If you’re looking for the middle of nowhere, the Bjaeldskovdal bog is a good place to start. It lies six miles outside the small town of Silkeborg in the middle of Denmark’s flat, sparse Jutland peninsula. The bog itself is little more than a spongy carpet of moss, with a few sad trees poking out. An ethereal stillness hangs over it. A child would put it more simply: This place is really spooky.

I drove here on a damp March day with Ole Nielsen, director of the Silkeborg Museum. We tramped out to a desolate stretch of bog, trying to keep to the clumps of ocher-colored grass and avoid the clingy muck between them. A wooden post was planted to mark the spot where two brothers, Viggo and Emil Hojgaard, along with Viggo’s wife, Grethe, all from the nearby village of Tollund, struck the body of an adult man while they cut peat with their spades on May 6, 1950. The dead man wore a belt and an odd cap made of skin, but nothing else. Oh yes, there was also a plaited leather thong wrapped tightly around his neck. This is the thing that killed him. His skin was tanned a deep chestnut, and his body appeared rubbery and deflated. Otherwise, Tollund Man, as he would be called, looked pretty much like you and me, which is astonishing considering he lived some 2,300 years ago.

The first time I saw him in his glass case at the Silkeborg Museum, a kind of embarrassed hush came over me, as if I had intruded on a sacred mystery. Apparently, this happens frequently. “Most people get very silent,” says Nielsen. “Some people faint, but that’s rare.”

What really gets you is his lovely face with its closed eyes and lightly stubbled chin. It is disconcertingly peaceful for someone who died so violently. You’d swear he’s smiling, as if he’s been dreaming sweetly for all those centuries. “It’s like he could wake up at any moment and say, ‘Oh, where was I?’” says Nielsen, who has clearly fallen under Tollund Man’s spell himself. “Looking at his face, you feel you could take a trip back 2,300 years to meet him. I would like to put a USB plug into his well-preserved brain and download everything that’s on it, but that’s impossible. He’s reluctant to answer.”

Reluctant perhaps, but not altogether unwilling. Archaeologists have been asking the same questions since the Hojgaards first troubled Tollund Man’s long sleep: Who are you? Where did you come from? How did you live? Who murdered you and why? But the way the researchers ask the questions, using new forensic techniques like dual-energy CT scanners and strontium tests, is getting more sophisticated all the time. There’s new hope that, sometime soon, he may start to speak.

Scholars tend to agree that Tollund Man’s killing was some kind of ritual sacrifice to the gods—perhaps a fertility offering. To the people who put him there, a bog was a special place. While most of Northern Europe lay under a thick canopy of forest, bogs did not. Half earth, half water and open to the heavens, they were borderlands to the beyond. To these people, will-o’-the-wisps—flickering ghostly lights that recede when approached—weren’t the effects of swamp gas caused by rotting vegetation. They were fairies. The thinking goes that Tollund Man’s tomb may have been meant to ensure a kind of soggy immortality for the sacrificial object.

“When he was found in 1950,” says Nielsen, “they made an X-ray of his body and his head, so you can see the brain is quite well-preserved. They autopsied him like you would do an ordinary body, took out his intestines, said, yup it’s all there, and put it back. Today we go about things entirely differently. The questions go on and on.”

Lately, Tollund Man has been enjoying a particularly hectic afterlife. In 2015, he was sent to the Natural History Museum in Paris to run his feet through a microCT scan normally used for fossils. Specialists in ancient DNA have tapped Tollund Man’s femur to try to get a sample of the genetic material. They failed, but they’re not giving up. Next time they’ll use the petrous bone at the base of the skull, which is far denser than the femur and thus a more promising source of DNA.

Then there’s Tollund Man’s hair, which may end up being the most garrulous part of him. Shortly before I arrived, Tollund Man’s hat was removed for the first time to obtain hair samples. By analyzing how minute quantities of strontium differ along a single strand, a researcher in Copenhagen hopes to assemble a road map of all the places Tollund Man traveled in his lifetime. “It’s so amazing, you can hardly believe it’s true,” says Nielsen.

**********

Eleven-year-old John Kauslund recalled his family spading up their bog find. “There’s something strange in here,” his mother told the boy. (Christian Als)
Tollund Man is the best-looking and best-known member of an elite club of preserved cadavers that have come to be known as “bog bodies.” These are men and women (also some adolescents and a few children) who were laid down long ago in the raised peat bogs of Northern Europe—mostly Denmark, Germany, England, Ireland and the Netherlands. Cashel Man, the community’s elder statesman, dates to the Bronze Age, around 2,000 B.C., giving him a good 700 years on King Tut. But his age makes him an outlier. Radiocarbon dating tells us that the greater number of bog bodies went into the moss some time in the Iron Age between roughly 500 B.C. and A.D. 100. The roster from that period is a bog body Who’s Who: Tollund Man, Haraldskjaer Woman, Grauballe Man, Windeby Girl, Lindow Man, Clonycavan Man and Oldcroghan Man.

They can keep speaking to us from beyond the grave because of the environment’s singular chemistry. The best-preserved bodies were all found in raised bogs, which form in basins where poor drainage leaves the ground waterlogged and slows plant decay. Over thousands of years, layers of sphagnum moss accumulate, eventually forming a dome fed entirely by rainwater. A raised bog contains few minerals and very little oxygen, but lots of acid. Add in low Northern European temperatures, and you have a wonderful refrigerator for conserving dead humans.

A body placed here decomposes extremely slowly. Soon after burial, the acid starts tanning the body’s skin, hair and nails. As the sphagnum moss dies, it releases a carbohydrate polymer called sphagnan. It binds nitrogen, halting growth of bacteria and further mummifying the corpse. But sphagnan also extracts calcium, leached out of the body’s bones. This helps to explain why, after a thousand or so years of this treatment, a corpse ends up looking like a squished rubber doll.

Nobody can say for sure whether the people who buried the bodies in the bog knew that the sphagnum moss would keep those bodies intact. It appears highly unlikely—how would they? Still, it is tempting to think so, since it fits so perfectly the ritualistic function of bog bodies, perhaps regarded as emissaries to the afterworld.

Besides, there’s also the odd business of bog butter. Bodies weren’t the only things that ended up in the bogs of Northern Europe. Along with wooden and bronze vessels, weapons and other objects consecrated to the gods, there was also an edible waxy substance made out of dairy or meat. Just this past summer, a turf-cutter found a 22-pound hunk of bog butter in County Meath, Ireland. It is thought to be 2,000 years old, and while it smells pretty funky, this Iron Age comestible would apparently work just fine spread on 21st-century toast. Like the vessels and weapons, bog butter may have been destined for the gods, but scholars are just as likely to believe that the people who put it there were simply preserving it for later. And if they knew a bog would do this for butter, why not the human body too?

Much of what we know about bog bodies amounts to little more than guesswork and informed conjecture. The Bronze and Iron Age communities from which they come had no written language. There’s one thing we do know about them, because it is written on their flesh. Nearly all appear to have been killed, many with such savagery that it lends an air of grim purposefulness to their deaths. They’ve been strangled, hanged, stabbed, sliced and clobbered on the head. Some victims may have been murdered more than once in several different ways. Scholars have come to call this overkilling, and it understandably provokes no end of speculation. “Why would you stab someone in the throat and then strangle them?” wonders Vincent van Vilsteren, curator of archaeology at Drents Museum in Assen, the Netherlands, home of the bog body known as Yde Girl.

We may never get a clear answer, and it now seems unlikely that a single explanation can ever fit all the victims. But the question keeps gnawing at us and gives bog bodies their clammy grip on the imagination. For some strange reason, we identify. They are so alarmingly normal, these bog folk. You think, there but for the grace of the goddess went I.

That’s what overcomes the visitors in Tollund Man’s presence. Seamus Heaney felt it, and wrote a haunting and melancholy series of poems inspired by the bog bodies. “Something of his sad freedom as he rode the tumbril should come to me, driving, saying the names Tollund, Grauballe, Nebelgard,” Heaney writes in his poem “Tollund Man.”



MicroCT scans of Tollund Man’s foot allowed an in-depth view of sinews and the artery once connected to the missing big toe. (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle)

It’s hard to say exactly how many bog bodies there are (it depends on whether you count just the fleshy bog bodies or include bog skeletons), but the number is probably in the hundreds. The first records of them date to the 17th century, and they’ve been turning up fairly regularly since then. (Before that, bodies found in bogs were often given a quick reburial in the local churchyard.)

We’re finding them less frequently now that peat has greatly diminished as a source of fuel. To the extent that peat still gets cut at all—environmentalists oppose peat extraction in these fragile ecosystems—the job now falls to large machines that often grind up what might have emerged whole from the slow working of a hand spade.

That doesn’t mean the odd bog body doesn’t still turn up. Cashel Man was unearthed in 2011 by a milling machine in Cul na Mona bog in Cashel, Ireland. In 2014, the Rossan bog in Ireland’s County Meath yielded a leg and arm bones and another leg last year. “We know something hugely significant is going on here. We’ve found wooden vessels here. We’ve found bog butter. This bog is a very sacred place,” says Maeve Sikora, an assistant keeper at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin, who is investigating the Rossan finds.

**********

The search for the origins of bog bodies and their secrets goes back a fairly long way, too. In 1780, a peat-cutter found a skeleton and a plait of hair in a bog on Drumkeragh Mountain. The property belonged to the Earl of Moira, and it was his wife, Elizabeth Rawdon, Countess of Moira, who pursued what we believe to be the first serious investigation of such a find, publishing her results in the journal Archaeologia.

As more bog bodies turned up, more questions got asked. In the absence of clear answers, mythmaking and fancy rushed in to fill the void. On October 20, 1835, workmen digging a ditch in the Haraldskjaer Fen on Denmark’s Jutland peninsula came across the well-preserved body of a woman, about 5-foot-2 with high cheekbones and long, dark hair. She was clamped to the moss with small staves through her elbows and knees.

Danish historian and linguist Niels Matthias Petersen identified her as Queen Gunhild of Norway, who, legend tells us, died around 970, and was notoriously cruel, clever, wanton and domineering.


According to the old stories, the Viking king Harald Bluetooth of Denmark enticed Gunhild over from Norway to be his bride. When she arrived, however, he drowned her and laid her deep in Gunnelsmose (Gunhild’s Bog). This explanation was not only accepted when Petersen first advanced it in 1835, it was celebrated; Queen Gunhild became a reality star. Around 1836, Denmark’s King Frederick VI personally presented her with an oak coffin, and she was displayed as a kind of Viking trophy in the Church of St. Nicholas in Vejle.

Among the few dissident voices was that of a scrappy student, J.J.A. Worsaae, one of the principal founders of prehistoric archaeology. Worsaae believed the folklore-based identification was hooey. He argued persuasively that the woman found in Harald­skjaer Fen should be grouped with other Iron Age bog bodies. In 1977, carbon dating proved him right: Harald­skjaer Woman—no longer referred to as Queen Gunhild—had lived during the fifth century B.C. Moreover, a second postmortem in the year 2000 found a thin line around her neck that had gone undetected. She had not been drowned but strangled. This changed everything, except perhaps for the victim.

**********

In the absence of hard evidence, the temptation to weave bog bodies into a national narrative proved hard to resist. The most notorious effort to lay claim to the bog bodies came in the mid-1930s, when the Nazis repurposed them to buttress their own Aryan my­thology. By this time, two views prevailed. It was largely accepted that the majority of bog bodies dated to the Bronze and Iron Ages, but their murder was ascribed either to ritual sacrifice or criminal punishment. This latter interpretation rested heavily on the writings of the Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus, whose Germania, written in A.D. 98, portrays social customs in the northern parts of the empire.

On the whole, Tacitus thought highly of the local inhabitants. He praised their forthrightness, bravery, simplicity, devotion to their chieftains and restrained sexual habits, which frowned on debauchery and favored monogamy and fidelity. These were the noble savages the Nazis wanted to appropriate as direct forebears, and Heinrich Himmler, head of the Gestapo and the SS, established an archaeological institute, the Ahnenerbe, to justify that claim “scientifically.”

To the researchers at the Ahnenerbe, bog bodies were the remains of degenerates who had betrayed the ancient code. In a key passage, Tacitus writes: “The punishment varies to suit the crime. Traitors and deserters are hanged on trees; the cowardly, the unwarlike and those who disgrace their bodies are drowned in miry swamps under a cover of wicker.” Professor and SS-Untersturmfuhrer Karl August Eckhardt interpreted this last phrase to mean homosexuals. It was just a hop from here to the Nazis’ ferocious persecution of gay people.

“The Ahnenerbe’s was the dominant theory of bog bodies at the time, and it was dangerous to question it,” says Morten Ravn, a Danish curator who has published a historical overview of bog body research. One of the few who dared was a historian of culture named Alfred Dieck, who perhaps felt himself protected by his own Nazi Party membership. Dieck’s research demonstrated that bog bodies came from too wide an area over too long a span of time to represent proto-Germanic legal practice. But the man who torpedoed the Aryan theory of bog bodies was prevented from working as an archaeologist after the war because of his Nazi past. Ravn says, “He was really quite an unfortunate person.”

**********

Shortly after Tollund Man was discovered, the detective in charge of what was initially a missing persons investigation had the good sense to call in Peter Vilhelm Glob, who had recently been appointed professor of archaeology at the university in Aarhus, the nearest big city. P. V. Glob, as everyone refers to him, has stamped his name more deeply than anyone else on the riddle of the bog bodies. His book, The Bog People—to the bighearted Glob, they were people, not bodies—was hailed as a modest masterpiece when it appeared in 1965. It is sharp, authoritative and moving all at once, and it remains intensely readable. Glob, who died in 1985, succeeded not only in providing the scaffolding for our understanding of Tollund Man and his kin, but in restoring their humanity as well. He conjured bog bodies back to life and made the world take notice of them. It was Glob who introduced Seamus Heaney to Tollund Man.

In Glob’s view, Tollund Man and most of the others were sacrificed to Nerthus, the Earth Mother, to ensure a good crop. We can see the goddess paraded around, surrounded by fabulous animals, on the great silver Gundestrup cauldron, buried as a sacrifice in a Danish bog not far from where several Iron Age bodies were also found. Glob notes pointedly that the cauldron’s goddesses all wear neck rings and twisted bands on their foreheads—“like the ropes round the necks of sacrificed bog men.”

They were strung up at winter’s end or early spring. We know Tollund Man was hanged, from the mark of the leather high up on his throat; “if he was strangled, it would have been lower down,” Ole Nielsen explains. And we know roughly the time of year when this occurred from the seasonal contents found in his stomach and that of other victims: barley, linseed and knotweed, among others, but no strawberries, blackberries, apples or hips from summer and autumn.

The ominous conclusion is clear, Glob informs us: The winter gruel was a special last supper intended to hasten the coming of spring, “on just such occasions that bloody human sacrifices reached a peak in the Iron Age.”

Glob is fine—much better than fine—as far as he goes, but he doesn’t go nearly far enough, as he would no doubt agree. “I’m still trying to get nearer to Tollund Man,” says Ole Nielsen. “In my view, he could have been a willing victim, perhaps chosen from childhood—I see nothing degrading about that. Or maybe they drew straws—‘Oh damn! Well, better you than me!’

“If we had his DNA, maybe we could say where he came from—his clan, from the north, from Greece, wherever. Could he drink milk? Was he prone to diabetes? What about arteriosclerosis? That’s one of the reasons we sent him for a microCT scan in Paris, to look into his arteries.”

Maybe we shouldn’t even be using the term bog bodies at all anymore, insofar as it tends to impose a unified explanation on a diverse phenomenon. The first museum exhibition Julia Farley recalls seeing as a child is the Lindow Man in the British Museum. Lindow Man is the most intact of several bodies discovered in the Lindow Moss in Cheshire, England, during the 1980s.

“I still come and say hello to him whenever I’m in the gallery,” says Farley, a curator at the British Museum. Except, says Farley, he may not be quite the same Lindow Man she first encountered all those years ago.

Carbon dating puts his death somewhere between 2 B.C. and A.D. 119. We have only the upper half of him, but besides that he’s in fine shape. He once stood around 5-foot-6. His beard and mustache had been clipped by shears. His manicured fingernails suggest he didn’t work too hard. His brow is furrowed in consternation. He was just 25 or so when he died, and he died a particularly horrible death. “One of the doctors who examined him originally found he had been kneed in the back to bring him to his knees, garroted, had his throat slit, his neck broken, got bashed in the head and was left to drown in the bog,” says Farley. “This is the so-called ‘triple death,’ and it’s the model that’s been taken forward.”

Farley isn’t so sure, and she’s not the only one. First, the physical evidence is inconclusive. Farley thinks the sinew tied around Lindow Man’s neck could as easily be a necklace as a garrote. Moreover, some of Lindow Man’s “wounds” might have occurred after death from the crushing weight of peat moss over centuries. Different fracturing patterns distinguish bones that fracture before death, when they are more flexible, from bones that fracture after death. It matters greatly, too, whether Lindow Man lived before or after the Roman conquest of Britain around A.D. 60. Among other sweeping cultural changes that came in with the Romans, human sacrifice was outlawed. What’s more, post-Glob, the Tacitus consensus has broken down. It turns out, Tacitus never visited the regions he wrote about, but compiled his history from other contemporary accounts. “There’s a lot of problematic issues with Tacitus,” says Morten Ravn. “He is still a research source, but you’ve got to be careful.”

All things considered, Lindow Man has gotten roped into a tidy, satisfyingly creepy meta-narrative of ritual killing. “For me, we’ve got to disentangle Lindow Man from that story,” says Farley. “There’s clearly something a bit weird happening in Cheshire in the early Roman period. But we can’t say whether these people are being executed, whether they’ve been murdered, whether they’ve been brought there and disposed of, or ritually killed for religious reasons. However it turns out, they’re not part of the same picture as the Danish bog bodies. We need to approach Lindow Man and the other bodies from Lindow Moss as individuals—as people.”

Last October, Lindow Man was taken for a short walk to London’s Royal Brompton Hospital, which has a dual-energy CT scanner. The scanner uses two rotating X-ray machines, each set to different wavelengths.

“It gives you amazing clarity for both the thicker parts, such as bones, and the more delicate parts, such as skin,” says Daniel Antoine, the British Museum’s curator of physical anthropology. “We’re using a dual-energy scanner in conjunction with VGStudio Max, one of the best software packages to transform those X-ray slices into a visualization. It’s the same software used in Formula One to scan brake pads after a race to reconstruct what’s happened on the inside without having to dismantle it. The software in most hospitals isn’t half as powerful as this. We’re really trying to push the science as much as possible.”

In September 2012, the museum ran a dual-energy scan on Gebelein Man, an Egyptian mummy from 3,500 B.C. that has been in its collection for more than 100 years. The scan probed hitherto unseen wounds in the back, shoulder blade and rib cage. The damage was consistent with the deep thrust of a blade in the back. Gebelein Man, it appeared, had been murdered. A 5,500-year-old crime had been revealed. Says Antoine, “Because the methods are constantly evolving, we can keep re-analyzing the same ancient human remains and come up with entirely new insights.”

In Ireland, Eamonn Kelly, formerly keeper of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum, claims a distinct narrative for his preserved Irish countrymen. In 2003, peat cutters found Oldcroghan Man and Clonycavan Man in two different bogs. Both had lived between 400 and 175 B.C., and both had been subjected to a spectacular variety of depredations, including having their nipples mutilated. This and other evidence led Kelly to propose the theory that the Celtic bog bodies were kings who had failed in their duties. The role of the king was to ensure milk and cereals for the people. (He fills this sacral role by a kingship-marriage with the goddess, who represents fertility and the land itself.) Kelly’s theory was a significant break from bog body orthodoxy. As he explains it, St. Patrick tells us that sucking the king’s nipples was a rite of fealty. So lacerated nipples, no crown, either here or in the hereafter.

“In Ireland, the king is the pivotal member of society, so when things go wrong, he pays the price,” says Kelly. “All the new bodies discovered since then have reaffirmed this theory. The ritual sacrifice may be the same principle as in the Teutonic lands, but here you’ve got a different person carrying the can. To have one explanation that fits bog bodies across Europe just isn’t going to work.”

Even the Danish bog bodies who furnish the master narrative are being re-examined to determine how well P. V. Glob’s old story still fits. Peter de Barros Damgaard and Morton Allentoft, two researchers from Copenhagen’s Centre for GeoGenetics, recently examined one of Haraldskjaer Woman’s teeth and a piece of the skull’s petrous bone. They were trying to get a decent sample of her DNA to determine her gene pool. To get a workable sample would be a godsend for bog body research, since it could clarify whether she was an outsider or a local. To date, it has been almost impossible to get because the acid in bogs causes DNA to disintegrate. But if there’s any hope of obtaining some, the sample would likely come from the teeth or petrous bone, since their extreme density protects DNA well.


Karin Frei studies bog body hair samples (Christian Als)

Thus far, the results have proved disappointing. Damgaard did manage to extract a bit of DNA from Haraldskjaer Woman’s tooth, but the sample proved too small. “I have no way to certify that the 0.2 percent of human DNA in the sample isn’t contaminated,” Damgaard wrote to me, after almost a full year’s work. “You could say that the genomic puzzle has been broken into pieces so small that they carry no information.” He sounded a little melancholy about it but resigned. “The DNA of the Haraldskjaer Woman will be beyond our reach forever, so she can lie down and rest.”

Karin Margarita Frei, professor of archaeometry/archaeological science at the National Museum of Denmark, had somewhat better luck performing a different kind of analysis on Haraldskjaer Woman’s hair. Frei uses strontium isotope analyses in her research. Strontium is present nearly everywhere in nature, but in proportions that vary from one place to another. People and animals absorb this strontium through eating and drinking in the proportions characteristic of the place they’re in at the time—specifically, the ratio of the isotopes strontium 87 to strontium 86. We have pretty good maps for the strontium characteristics of different countries, so by matching a particular body’s strontium makeup to the map, we can tell where its owner has been—and not just at one moment, but over time.

As with DNA, the best places to mine strontium are a person’s teeth and bones. The strontium isotope ratio in the first molar enamel shows where you come from originally, the long bone of the leg will show where you spent the last ten years of your life, and a rib will localize you for the last three or four years. The problem is that bog bodies often have no bones and their teeth are terribly degraded.

Frei had a revelation. Why not gather strontium from human hair? “When I saw Haraldskjaer Woman’s hair in 2012, almost 50 centimeters long, I realized I had the perfect material to investigate rapid mobility, since it works as a kind of fast-growing archive. It was an incredible moment for me,” Frei told me. Strontium, she says, enables her to “trace travels in the last years of a person’s life.”

Hair contains at most a few parts per million of strontium, often much less. And after burial in a bog for a few thousand years, hair is often fatally contaminated with dust and microparticles.

It took Frei three years to develop a technique for cleaning hair and extracting usable strontium samples from it, but when she did, the results were startling. “The small amount of enamel we got from Haraldskjaer Woman’s teeth said she was raised locally, but the tip of her hair told us that in the months before her death she went quite far. The low strontium signature indicates a volcanic area—maybe the middle of Germany, or the UK.” Frei did a similar analysis on Egtved Girl, a sort of Bronze Age bog body cousin, her fragmentary remains discovered inside an oak coffin at a burial mound outside Egtved, Denmark, in 1921. Similar results.

“Both women were traveling just before they died,” says Frei. “It made me think that if they were sacrificed, maybe they made the trip as part of the sacrifice. We may have to rethink the whole sacrifice question because of strontium.”

How fruitful a way forward are these high-tech invasions of the flesh? Eamonn Kelly, the Irish bog body scholar, urges caution and humility. “They just don’t know enough to say, this is a person from France who turned up in Ireland. I do think we’re going to get useful scientific advances that we can’t even comprehend now, but there’s also a lot of pseudoscience in the field of archaeology. Scientists give you a particular result, but they don’t tell you about the limitations and the drawbacks.”

In this case, it might turn out that Ole Nielsen is troubling Tollund Man’s dreamless sleep for very little. One of the reasons for taking off Tollund Man’s hat was to send a hair sample to Karin Frei. “Ole has been after me to do this for some time, but Tollund Man’s hair is very short,” says Frei.

Almost a year after telling me this, Frei wrote to give me an early preview of her results. They were meager—much less informative than Frei’s investigations of Haraldskjaer Woman and Egtved Girl. Frei compared the strontium in Tollund Man’s short hair with the strontium in his femur. Small differences in the strontium isotope’s proportions between the two samples suggest that while he spent his final year in Denmark, he might have moved at least 20 miles in his final six months.

That’s critically important for Nielsen. Every new tidbit unravels another thread in the deeply human mystery of these bog bodies. “It will never end. There will always be new questions,” he says. “Tollund Man doesn’t care. He’s dead. This is all about you and me.”




Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/europe-bog-bodies-reveal-secrets-180962770/#oGU2ZRsgC6o0I6i5.99
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Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Beastly Justice


In the Middle Ages, animals that did bad things were tried in court. Maybe that’s not as crazy as it sounds.
By James E. McWilliams




In the fall of 1457, villagers in Savigny, France witnessed a sow and six piglets attack and kill a 5-year-old boy. Today, the animals would be summarily killed. But errant 15th-century French pigs went to court. And it wasn’t for a show trial—this was the real deal, equipped with a judge, two prosecutors, eight witnesses, and a defense attorney for the accused swine. Witness testimony proved beyond reasonable doubt that the sow had killed the child. The piglets’ role, however, was ambiguous. Although splattered with blood, they were never seen directly attacking the boy.  The judge sentenced the sow to be hanged by her hind feet from a “gallows tree.” The piglets, by contrast, were exonerated.

Such a case might seem bizarre to modern observers, but animal trials were commonplace public events in medieval and early modern Europe. Pigs, cows, goats, horses, and dogs that allegedly broke the law were routinely subjected to the same legal proceedings as humans. In a court of law, they were treated as persons. These somber affairs, which always adhered to the strictest legal procedures, reveal a bygone mentality according to which some animals possessed moral agency.

Scholars who have explored animals on trial generally avoid addressing this mentality. Instead, they’ve situated animal trials in several sensible (and academically safer) frameworks. The dominant explanation from legal scholars and historians is that, in a society of people who believed deeply in a divinely determined order of being, with humans at the top, any disruption of God’s hierarchy had to be visibly restored with a formal event. Another hypothesis is that animal trials may have provided authorities an opportunity to intimidate the owners of animals—especially pigs—who ran roughshod through the commons. A sow hanging from the gallows was, in essence, a public service announcement saying, Control your pigs or they’ll die sooner than you hoped.

While these explanations go partway toward elucidating animal trials, none of them fully clarify the practice. They hardly explain why citizens went to great pains to create space for humans to judge animals for their actions. Correcting hierarchical order or sending a stern message to animal owners could have been accomplished much more easily and cheaply with summary execution. What the trials strongly suggest is that pre-industrial citizens deemed the animals among them worthy of human justice primarily because they had, like humans, the free will to make basic choices.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

Judges routinely considered animals’ personal circumstances before making a legal decision. Take the exonerated piglets in the opening anecdote. The judge deemed them innocent not only on technical grounds (no witnesses came forth to confirm that the piglets attacked), but also because the pigs were immature, and thus poorly positioned to make clear choices. Furthermore, they were raised by a rogue mother, he indicated, and thus unable to internalize the proper codes of conduct for village-dwelling piglets.

Intentions mattered as well. In a 1379 case, also in France, the son of a swine keeper was attacked and killed by two herds of swine.  The court determined that one herd initiated the attack while the other joined in afterward. The judge sentenced both herds to death because their evident cries of enthrallment during the melee were said to confirm their expressed approval of it, whether they were directly responsible or not. A sow hanged in 1567 was convicted not only for assaulting a 4-month-old girl, but for doing so with extra “cruelty.”  

The content of an animal’s character was also a factor in courtroom deliberations. In 1750, a man and a she-ass landed in court for alleged bestiality. The man was quickly convicted and sentenced to death. The she-ass, however, was exonerated because the townspeople submitted a document to the court noting that the animal was “in word and deed and in all her habits of life a most honest creature.” This popular assessment led the jury to conclude that the ass was the innocent victim of a violent and deviant master. Only domesticated animals were subject to such character examinations—the expectation being that, living among humans, they better understood the difference between right and wrong. When pigs behaved badly in the courtroom—such as by grunting loudly in the prisoner’s box—this lack of composure could count against them during sentencing. (For more on these and other animal trials, see legal scholar Jen Girgen’s fascinating “The Historical and Contemporary Prosecution and Punishment of Animals.”)

What are we to make of this evidence that our ancestors imputed to animals a sense of moral agency? Contemporary responses have been either to mock them as pre-enlightenment rubes (“artifacts of a superstitious and ritualistic culture,” as legal scholar Katie Sykes summarizes this stance) or to dismiss them as sinister masochists who enjoyed watching animals dangle from the gallows because they had, as historian Edward P. Evans put it in 1906, “a childish disposition to punish irrational creatures.” Overlooked by these interpretations is something that, as we increasingly remove animals from public view, becomes harder to appreciate: These people saw aspects of animal behavior that we don’t see anymore.  In this sense, these seemingly odd trials have much to teach us about how fundamentally our relationship with animals has changed over time and how, more poignantly, we’ve lost the ability to empathize with them as sentient beings.

People living in preindustrial agrarian societies interacted almost constantly with domesticated animals. Seventeenth-century farming account books suggest that farmers of that era spent up to 16 hours a day observing and caring for domesticated beasts. They watched these animals make choices, respond to human directives, engage in social relationships, and distinguish themselves as individuals with unique personalities. This observational intimacy lasted well into the 19th century, until feedlots and packing plants consolidated the business of animal agriculture, eventually superseding the practices that kept animals and farmers in close and relatively long-term proximity. A change in mentality followed this consolidation. Humans began to think and talk about animals as objects. “The pig,” explained one agricultural manual from the 1880s, “is the most valuable machine on the farm.” Today, with nearly 99 percent of animal products deriving from these “factory farms,” this view of animals-as-objects persists as the dominant perspective.

However, talk to the 1 percent of farmers who work on small farms and maintain traditional agricultural practices, and they’ll tell you stories that evoke the premodern view of animals. Cheri Ezell-Vandersluis, a former goat farmer, has written that she was so charmed by her animals’ individual qualities that she started to think of them as “part of the family.” Another small-scale goat farmer in California writes that each of his goats “has a personality and I care about each of them as individuals,” and notes that he feels a “twinge” when he takes them to slaughter.  A heritage pig farmer in Homosassa, Florida writes, “[T]hey are amazing animals. Each one has its own personality. Little pig Marshall (the boar) is a water hose fanatic. It’s like watching a 3 year old playing in the sprinkler in the front yard.”

And the modern field of animal ethology confirms that farm animals, especially pigs, are fiercely smart. In the most recently publicized study confirming their rare cognition, pigs were shown to be able to use mirrors as tools in their search for food; in other studies, pigs have quickly learned new tasks (like playing videogames), displayed a prodigious memory for where food is stored, and even manipulated one another in a bid for food. The New York Times, referring to this kind of research, editorialized, “We keep probing the animal world for signs of intelligence—as we define it—and we’re always surprised when we discover it. This suggests that something is fundamentally wrong with our assumptions.”

There is something fundamentally wrong with our assumptions about premodern animal trials, too. Medieval Europeans gave animal agency the benefit of the doubt. We condemn billions of animals to conditions that amount to torture without a trial. Which practice really makes less sense?  


http://www.slate.com/articles/life/history/2013/02/medieval_animal_trials_why_they_re_not_quite_as_crazy_as_they_sound.html

Monday, 10 April 2017

A Fingerprint Fable: The Will and William West Case


(This story appeared in the November 1987, Vol. 37, No. 11 issue of Identification News, which was the next to the last issue prior to changing publication format and becoming the Journal of Forensic Identification)by ROBERT D. OLSEN, SR.Kansas Bureau of Investigation



                                                                       Will West




                                                                     William West




The Fable




There should be very few people in the identification field who do not know the story of Will and William West, two inmates at Leavenworth Penitentiary, shortly after the turn of the century.  In its purist form, the story is as follows:

�When he was received at Leavenworth, Will West denied previous imprisonment there, but the record clerk ran the Bertillon instruments over him anyway.  He knew the reluctance of criminals to admit past crimes.  Sure enough, when the clerk referred to the formula derived from West's Bertillon measurements, he located the file of one William West, whose measurements were practically identical and whose photograph appeared to be that of the new prisoner.

�But Will West was not being coy about a previous visit to Leavenworth.  When the clerk turned over William West's record card he found it was that of a man already in the Penitentiary, serving a life sentence for murder.  Subsequently the fingerprints of Will West and William West were impressed and compared.  The patterns bore no resemblance.� (3,4,6,26)

Some authors have elaborated on the story, perhaps in an effort to make to a more interesting tale.  Browne and Brock (3), alleged that upon taking the fingerprints of the two inmates, William West's prints were primarily loops and Will West's were primarily whorls.  In fact, the primary classification of the former was 13/32 and that of the latter was 30/26, therefore, each had seven whorls and three loop type patterns.  Like other writers, Browne and Brock also confused the warden and the records clerk at the penitentiary as one and the same person when they were actually father and son.  One is also compelled to point out that Browne and Brock also misspelled the name as McClaughty.

Faulds (5) presented an entirely different story in his account of the incident, retaining only one inmate's name.  Faulds stated that William West had been arrested in Kansas as a murder suspect and shortly afterwards another man with the same name and Bertillon measurements had been arrested on a minor offense.  After taking both men's fingerprints, the authorities identified the second man as the actual suspect and the first William West was cleared.

Chapel (4) stuck to the basic story, but added a dialect to Will West's dialogue with the records clerk,  The dialect may have seemed appropriate to someone familiar with some of the questionable radio programs of the 1930's, but the subservient attitude  conveyed would hardly fit anyone from the Indian Territory in the early 1900's.  None of the other accounts of the incident included this racial bias.

A search of the literature on fingerprint identification reveals that the alleged Will and William West case was not reported in print until Wilder and Wentworth's account in 1918 (26).  Please note that of the twenty--six books and articles listed in the bibliography, eighteen were published prior to the release of Wilder and Wentworth's book and none of the eighteen mention the West case.  Of particular note is that two of the items listed in the bibliography (14,15) were by the records clerk who took the Bertillon measurements and the fingerprints of Will and William West, but who never mentions the incident.  One is immediately struck with the thought that a pioneer in the establishment of fingerprint identification never attached much significance to a case in which he played a very important role.  Perhaps the case was not as important as we have been led to believe?

Background Facts

It has been well established that Will and William West were both incarcerated at the U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas, between 1903 and 1909.  Their similarity in appearance and Bertillon measurements is also well documented.  When one considers the facts and chronology of the case, however, there is ample reason to doubt the significance of the case with respect to the establishment of fingerprint identification in the United States.

Major Robert W. McClaughry was warden of the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, from 1 July 1899, to 30 June 1913.  Major McClaughry was a remarkable man in the history of identification in the United States.  In 1887, as warden of the Illinois State Penitentiary, Joliet, he and his records clerk, Gallus Muller, introduced the Bertillon system into the United States and Major McClaughry was instrumental in the adoption of the system by the Wardens Association of the United States and Canada in the same year (14).

A reading of the literature reveals Major McClaughry to be a man of the highest principles and integrity.  Although he was a prime mover in the acceptance of the Bertillon system, he did not hesitate to convert to a better system when he learned about the fingerprint system of identification.

Major R.W. McClaughry's son, M.W. McClaughry, was the records clerk at the U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth, at least during the period from 1901 to 1905.  These dates are verifiable from published facsimiles of the Bertillon measurement cards and the fingerprint cards of Will and William West (5).  M.W. McClaughry attended the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904, where he met and was a student of Sergeant John K. Ferrier, of Scotland Yard, who instructed many Americans on the fingerprint system.

Upon M.W. McClaughry's return from St. Louis, Major R.W. McClaughry wrote the U.S. Attorney General, on 24 September 1904, requesting permission to install the fingerprint system at the penitentiary.  On 2 November 1904, the Attorney General authorized installation of the new system, but prior to this, during October 1904, Sgt. Ferrier visited the penitentiary at Leavenworth, and gave instruction on the fingerprint system (19).  It appears the awareness of fingerprint identification by the authorities at Leavenworth came long after Will West's arrival.

M.W. McClaughry took the Bertillon measurements of William West on 9 September 1901, and those of Will West on 4 May 1903 (5).  He was also the clerk to take the fingerprints of both men on 19 October 1905 (5).  In the two articles he authored (14,15), M.W. McClaughry makes no mention of Will and William West, an indication that he attached no significance to their simultaneous incarceration while he was the records clerk.

During the annual conference of the International Association for Criminal Identification at Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1916, the local paper published an article about the conference and which contained a brief history of fingerprint identification (16).  One of the sources of information for the article was A.J. Renoe, who was then the records clerk at the penitentiary.  No mention was made of Will and William West in this article, but two years later Wilder and Wentworth cite Renoe as a source (26), as did Faulds (5).

Inasmuch as none of the early authors, including M.W. McClaughry who was directly involved, make any mention of Will and William West, their significance in the establishment of fingerprint identification in the United States must be questioned.  It makes a nice story to tell over port and cigars, but there is evidence that it never happened.

It is not necessary to use a fable to illustrate the value of the fingerprint system.  The work and dedication of pioneers in the identification field attests to a better story.  England is not only the home of the scientific basis of fingerprint identification, but it was, through Sgt. John K. Ferrier, the source of its acceptance in the United States.  Pioneers, as Major R.W. McClaughry, should be recognized for their readiness to accept new and improved systems of identification.



Chronology of the Will and William West Case




1887 -- Bertillon system first established in the United States at Illinois State Penitentiary, Joliet, by Major Robert W. McClaughry, warden, and Gallus Muller, records clerk.

1899 -- Major Robert W. McClaughry appointed warden of the U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas, by President William McKinley.

1901 -- William West received at the Leavenworth Penitentiary and his Bertillon measurements were taken by the records clerk, M.W. McClaughry.

1903 -- Will West received at the Leavenworth Penitentiary and his Bertillon measurements were taken by the records clerk, M.W. McClaughry.

1904 -- Records clerk of the Leavenworth Penitentiary, M.W. McClaughry, meets Sgt. John K. Ferrier of Scotland Yard at the St. Louis World's Fair and learns of the fingerprint system of identification.



September 24th, Major R.W. McClaughry wrote to the U.S. Attorney General requesting permission to install the fingerprint system at the Leavenworth Penitentiary.



During October, Sgt. John K. Ferrier visited the Leavenworth Penitentiary and give instructions on the fingerprint system.



November 2nd, the U.S. Attorney General authorized Major R.W. McClaughry to install the fingerprint system.

1905 -- October 10th, M.W. McClaughry, records clerk, fingerprinted Will and William West.

1918 -- First published mention of the Will and William West case.

Bibliography

1. Bach, H., �The Science of the Finger Print,� Illustrated World (Chicago), vol. 28, no. 6 (February 1918), pp. 818--819.

 2. Brewer, Charles B., �Finger--Prints: Their Use in the United States Navy and Elsewhere,�  Century Magazine, vol. 78, no. 6 (October 1909), pp. 911--914.

 3. Browne, Douglas G., and Alan Brock, Fingerprints: Fifty Years of Scientific Crime Detection, George G. Harrap & Co., Ltd., London, 1953, pp. 105--106.

 4. Chapel, Charles E., Fingerprinting: A Manual of Identification, Coward McCann, Inc., New York, 1941, pp. 9--13.

 5. Faulds, Henry, �Saved by His Finger--Prints,� Dactylography, vol. 1(ns), no. 1 (February 1922), pp. 6--8.

 6. Fingerprint Identification (pamphlet). Federal Bureau of Investigation, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1977, p. 7.

 7. Hambridge, Jay, �Fingerprints: Their Use by the Police,� Century Magazine, vol. 78, no. 6 (October 1909), pp. 916--921.

 8. �Is Bertillon a Back Number?� Literary Digest, vol. 51, no. 19 (November 6, 1915), pp. 1006--1007.

 9. �Keeping Track of the Criminal by His Finger--Prints,� New York Times, July 30, 1911, part 5, page 12.

10. Kuhne, Frederick, The Finger Print Instructor, Munn & Co., Inc., New York, 1916.

11.       , �Origin, Classification and Use of Finger Prints,� Scientific American, vol. 114 (1915), p. 357.

12. Laufer, Berthold, �History of the Finger--Print System,� Annual Report (1912) of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution.  Government Printing Office, Washington, 1913, pp. 631--652.

13.          , �Concerning the History of Finger--Prints,� Science, vol. 45(ns), no. 1169 (May 25, 1917), pp. 504--512.

14. McClaughry, M.W., �Fingerprints,� United States Cavalry Association Journal, vol. 17 (1907), pp. 500--512.

15.        , �History of the Introduction of the Bertillon System Into the United States,� Finger Print Magazine, vol. 3, no. 10 (April 1922), pp. 3--5.

16. �Manhunters' come together today to hold sessions,� Leavenworth Times, August 15, 1916, page 3, column, 1.

17. Messick, Charles P., �The Finger Method of Identification in New Jersey,� American City Magazine, vol. 27, no. 5 (November 1922), p. 473.

18. Mitchell, Edmund, �The Identification of Criminals by Finger Prints,� World Today, September 1905, pp. 1004--1005.

19. Myers, Harry J. II, History of Identification in the United States.  Institute of Applied Science, Chicago, 1941.

20. �No Two Finger Prints Alike,� Scientific American, vol. 105 (1911), p. 166.

21. Reeve, Arthur B., �The Infallible Finger Print,� Harper's Weekly, vol. 57, no. 2950 (July 4, 1913), pp. 19--20.

22. Robinson, Louis, �An Ancient Reading of Finger--Prints,� North American Review, vol. 180 (1905), pp. 727--734.

23. Shepstone, Harold J., �The Finger--Print System of Identification,� Scientific American, vol. 103 (1910), pp. 256--257.

24. Taylor, J.H., Finger--Print Evidence, Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department, Government Printing Office, Washington, 1920.

25. White, Frank M., �Crime and Finger--Prints,� Harper's Weekly, vol. 55, no. 2863 (November 4, 1911), p. 12.

26. Wilder, Harris H., and Bert Wentworth, Personal Identification.  The Gorham Press, Boston, 1918, pp. 30--33.









This article was reprinted in 'THE PRINT'

Volume 11(1), January/February 1995, pp 8-10

and has been obtained from the online library provided by the

Southern California Association of Fingerprint Officers

www.scafo.org

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Victorian ‘Coffin Torpedoes’ Blasted Would-Be Body Snatchers
Grave robbing got more hazardous in the 1880s.


By Lucy Tiven APRIL 03, 2017


Patented coffin torpedoes, for all your grave-defending needs!


On the night of January 17, 1881, a would-be body snatcher by the name of Dipper was killed by a blast in a Mount Vernon, Ohio cemetery. The attempted grave-robbery was a three-man operation, according to the Stark County Democrat. The explosion broke the leg of the second thief. The third—tasked with keeping watch—was allegedly left unscathed and hoisted his wounded friend into a sleigh.

Another win for the coffin torpedo.

Keeping the dead buried was a matter of grave concern in 19th-century America. As medical schools proliferated after the Civil War, the field grew increasingly tied to the study of anatomy and practice of dissection. Professors needed bodies for young doctors to carve into and the pool of legally available corpses—executed criminals and body donors—was miniscule. Enter freelance body snatchers, dispatched to do the digging. By the late 1800s, the illicit body trade was flourishing, and salacious accounts of grave robberies peppered local papers across the country, historian Michael Sappol, Ph.D., chronicles in A Traffic of Dead Bodies.

Massachusetts officials testified about body-snatching in an 1883 investigation of Tewksbury Almshouse.
Massachusetts officials testified about body-snatching in an 1883 investigation of Tewksbury Almshouse. 


At least 12 body-snatching scandals were reported in 1878, including that of Ohio congressman John Scott Harrison, the son of ninth United States president William Henry Harrison. (Harrison’s body was found at the University of Cincinnati and his remains were ultimately returned to the family tomb.)

Capitalizing on the public’s funereal anxiety, inventors got to work. Their solution? Explosives.


Philip. K Clover, a Columbus, Ohio artist, patented an early coffin torpedo in 1878. Clover’s instrument functioned like a small shotgun secured inside the coffin lid in order to “prevent the unauthorized resurrection of dead bodies,” as the inventor put it. If someone tried to remove a buried body, the torpedo would fire out a lethal blast of lead balls when the lid was pried open.



Phillip K. Clover’s U.S. Patent No. 208,672

Another Ohioan, former Circleville probate judge Thomas N. Howell, patented a grave torpedo of his own on December 20, 1881. Unlike the Clover torpedo, Howell’s gadget was a shell buried above the coffin and wired to it. This worked like a landmine and would detonate when thieves ran into the wiring.

Thomas N. Howell’s U.S. Patent No. 217, 379.
“Sleep well sweet angel, let no fears of ghouls disturb thy rest, for above thy shrouded form lies a torpedo, ready to make minced meat of anyone who attempts to convey you to the pickling vat,” read an advertisement for the Howell torpedo.

“It’s a period in which people devoted a considerable portion of their savings to funerals, and the development of a funeral industry around that,” Sappol says. “For many working people, if you saved any money at all, it might be for funeral expenses for you and your family. People felt that it was desperately important to have a ‘decent burial.’”

Lore of coffin torpedoes and graves loaded with them spread in patent catalogs and newsprint.

A particularly gossipy 1899 issue of the Topeka State Journal claimed the late Mrs. W.C. Whitney’s grave was “sown with powerful torpedoes” and fiercely guarded by watchmen at all hours. The report referenced the case of A.T. Stewart, a gilded-age tycoon whose body was taken from its grave in 1878 and held for ransom. “There is no secret about the torpedoes,” the Journal claimed. “All the village talks of them.”

Despite all the yellow rag chatter about graveyard artillery, there is little to suggest coffin torpedoes were widely manufactured or commercially successful.

“For the most part, these devices seem to have been used very little,” says anthropologist Dr. Kate Meyers Emery. “They were definitely oddities designed to make money off of the widespread fear about body snatching. The truth is, most of the time you really just needed someone to watch over your grave for a few days or weeks to make sure that the body had time to decay and wouldn’t be of use.”

Doctoral candidate Megan Springate, who authored the book Coffin Hardware in Nineteenth-century America is similarly unconvinced that coffin torpedoes made it out of patent catalogs. According to Springate, these news clippings probably reference “general explosives” placed around graves rather than inventions specific to the funeral industry.  

“Other aspects of the mortuary industry in the U.S. would have also deterred body snatching, including burial in sealed shipping crates as makeshift vaults, the use of hidden locking mechanisms on casket lids, and the use of cast iron coffins,” she says. “All of these have been recovered archaeologically.”

Not all grave robbery deterrents involved ammunition.

KREGEL CASKET COMPANY CATALOG CA. 1895/COURTESY OF THE BRIAN SUTTON-SMITH LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES OF PLAY® AT THE STRONG®
By the early 20th century, the controversy around resurrection men and the body trade had died down considerably—though not due to “grave ghouls” going out with a bang. Anatomy laws gave medical schools access to bodies of the poor in most states by 1913, curbing the black market for cadavers. Improved refrigeration technology also allowed corpses to be stored and preserved in medical institutions, so there was less of a premium on the newly deceased. Microbiology, advances in the surgical field, and early X-Rays relegated anatomical dissection to the sidelines of medical innovation. Anatomy continued to be taught in medical schools, but it primarily served as an introductory course, rather than the central focus of the medical curriculum.

Though there is little archaeological evidence of grave torpedo use, these inventions provide a peculiar window into the curiosity, horror, and unease anatomical practice inspired among 19th-century society.

“It’s a lost world, and part of it is the politics of death, the importance people attached to having a decent burial and the strong meanings they attached to narratives of death,” says Sappol. The industry that arose in service of that incorporated “casket and mausoleum manufacture, but also funerary clothes and trinkets, hearses, gravestones, post-mortem photography, and embalming post-Civil War.”

“Then there’s the tinkerers culture, people making goofy devices for perceived need or non-need,” Sappol says.  

Addressing a coffin torpedo patent, Scientific American boasted: “In consequence of the increasing number of graveyard desecrations, the genius of the inventor has been incited to devise means of their defeat.” This clipping was reprinted in various local publications during the late 1870s and early 1880s.

Some accounts of coffin torpedoes and the tinkerers who thought them up take note of their impracticality. The Pittsburg Dispatch dedicated part of an 1890 round-up of “Rattle Brain Ideas” to cemetery explosives, locating them within the larger culture of invention and its esoteric, ill-conceived byproducts.
An 1890 column poked fun at overzealous inventors.
“There’s a premium on novelty and ingenuity,” Sappol says. “People in their barns have their tools, and they’re making stuff. Sometimes they make brilliant inventions and make fortunes, and sometimes they just make stupid things.” 

Occasionally, they also made good punchlines.

The joke column of an 1882 Montana paper described the detonation of “one of the patent Ohio grave torpedoes.”. The device was being tested on a mule. At the point of explosion, the animal picked up a single hoof and continued grazing.

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