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1200 pieces of bone were found in the basement of a house rented by this Founding Father

Photos of the human bones discovered at Craven St.

Photos of the human bones discovered at Craven St.

In 1998, construction workers doing repair work in the basement at 36 Craven Street in London found more than 1200 pieces of bone (human and nonhuman) in a pit that was 1 meter wide and 1 meter deep.   Since old human bones are routinely discovered in London along riverbanks and under parking lots this may not have been a noteworthy discovery, except for person who was living at this address when archaeologists believe the bones were buried.

Benjamin Franklin lived in London at 36 Craven Street for almost two decades, between 1757 to 1775, until his return to America.  A forensic investigation found that the bones belonged more than 15 people, and dated back to Franklin’s occupation.  But Franklin was not some crazed mass murderer.

It turns out the human bones were remnants of a clandestine anatomy school that was run out of the house.  William Hewson, a close friend of Franklin and son-in-law to his landlady, ran the anatomy school at Craven St.  The human remains showed dissection marks from surgical instruments and the skulls had marks made by a trepanning device.  Prior to The Anatomy Act of 1832, it was illegal for teachers, medical students, and doctors to dissect donated bodies, so the practice was done in secret.  When Hewson was done with the bodies, rather than sneak the bodies out for disposal and risk getting caught and prosecuted,  he buried whatever was left in the basement.

Read more at:

The Benjamin Franklin House

The Smithsonian

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