Not Exactly Unicorns And Rainbows

On our last visit to the UT campus in Knoxville, I went to the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture and found something I really wasn’t sure I was going to *ever* going to get to be so close to — and something I haven’t seen in many other museums of this type:

…a narwhal horn. Or maybe it’s preferable to say ‘narwhal tusk’ — it’s actually a tooth and these were sold years and years ago as unicorn horns. Narwhals are arctic whales (I didn’t even realize they existed until I was in college) and you know, since I was one of those girls who decorated her notebooks with unicorns and rainbows (mmmm…still do….) it was instant love when I found out about them.

There’s really a nice mix of exhibits in this small museum; here, the inner coffin of Anesenmes, Priestess of Amun-Re, Dynasty XXI, ca. 1085-950BCE:

Inner Coffin of Anesenmes, Priestess of Amun-Re, Dynasty XXI, ca 1085-950BCE//

Though…I’m thinking one day people may be more circumspect about removing burial artifacts from ancient Egypt. If part of the Egyptians’ beliefs included the importance that they were buried a certain way with a certain process to help ensure their place and comfort in the afterlife, aren’t more modern people in some ways stepping on those religious beliefs by disturbing these environments?

Just a few miles from the museum on another part of campus is what people colloquially call ‘The Body Farm’ which is actually the UT Forensic Anthropology Center. It’s where, if one decides to donate one’s body to science, researchers often study decomposition of the body in various situations in the natural outdoors area (but closed to outsiders) around the facility.  There’s a whole donor packet for people to fill out when making a decision to do this kind of thing and if ones wishes were, say, to be left in the woods to return to the earth naturally, this kind of request will be considered.

Body Farm, Facility at UT Knoxville//
The body farm is to the right and on the other side of a parking lot fence — about three acres total. I don’t need or wish to see it, but do find it interesting that even the Tennessee Dept of Tourist Development lists it on its website. Appreciate that these researchers are doing these types of studies for a variety of reasons, firstly so that crimes may more reliably be solved.

This, from the facility’s site:
The William M. Bass Donated Collection is currently the largest collection of modern people in the United States. This means that it is one of the best ways to study the skeletons of modern populations. Most of the criteria in use today for estimating age, sex, and ancestry were developed from collections of skeletons from the late 19th century, as these were the only ones available at the time forensic anthropology began. Since people have changed over the last century, it is crucial to have access to modern skeletons in order to develop new identification criteria that reflects these changes. The skeletons are housed in perpetuity–in fact, the first donation received in 1981 is still used in research today.

7. Currently, we have over 1,000 individuals in our collection and average approximately 100 new donations per year. These include individuals who have pre-registered with us, have been donated by their families, or by a medical examiner. They come from 33 different states and 2 different countries.

8. Our pre-donor program has well over 2,750 individuals who have chosen to donate to us prior to their death. These individuals come from all 50 states and 6 different countries and represent all age ranges.

Just because we are on the topic (this pic below from a visit to Etowah County, Alabama), are wakes at home (rather than just a visitation at the funeral home) happening some in your community?  Interested how often this custom is going on currently, and where. Please contact me if you have some information to share. Thank you!

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