A morbid donation only a medical museum could love

Civil War era mummified arm donated the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Photo credit: National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Civil War era mummified arm donated the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.  Photo credit: National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

On September 17, 1862 Union and Confederate soldiers fought the Battle of Antietam near Sharpsburg, MD, during which 23,000 troops were killed in less than a day.  Two weeks after the Civil War’s bloodiest battle, a Sharpsburg-area farmer found a severed right forearm while plowing his fields.

The farmer put the limb in a barrel of saltwater and gave it to a physician, who embalmed it.  The preserved arm changed hands several times over the years before being sold at auction in 2001.  Then in 2012 the mummified limb was donated anonymously to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Executive Director of the museum, George Wunderlich, submitted the forearm to forensic experts for analysis and testing.   While Wunderlich and the researchers studying the twisted limb have little hope of positively identifying its owner, they are optimistic they can determine sex, ancestry, age, stature, and how the arm was torn from the body.

William Gardner, who was a forensic medicine instructor at Marshall University, examined the arm and believes the arm belonged to a small man who was less than 20 years old at the time of the amputation.

Close up view of the palmar surface of the hand, and the ends of the ulna and radius. Photo credit: National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Close up view of the palmar surface of the hand, and the ends of the ulna and radius. Photo credit: National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

Mummified skin and muscle are still attached to the bones.   The examination revealed that the elbow joint is still intact and there are no surgical tool marks, leading researchers to believe the arm was removed between the shoulder and elbow.

During the Civil War, soldiers were either mutilated by artillery fire or killed and buried were they fell.  These corpses were buried in shallow graves that were marked for future exhumation to cemeteries, but some remains were never retrieved, which explains how the Sharpsburg farmer found the severed arm.

References:

Dishineau, D. (2012 April 11).  Md. Civil War Museum Gives Severed Arm A Good Look.  Huffington Post.  Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/11/md-civil-war-museum-gives_n_1418518.html#s862922&title=Mummified_Forearm

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Categories: Archaeology, History

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