Skeletal Evidence of Anatomical and Surgical Training in Nineteenth-Century Richmond

  • Douglas W. OwsleyEmail author
  • Karin S. Bruwelheide
  • Richard L. Jantz
  • Jodi L. Koste
  • Merry Outlaw
Part of the Bioarchaeology and Social Theory book series (BST)


A brick well containing human bones and artifacts dating to the mid-nineteenth century was discovered during construction on the Medical College of Virginia campus of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in 1994. The commingled assemblage associates the well with the first years of operation of the Egyptian Building, opened in 1844 and built to house the Medical Department of Hampden-Sydney College, established in 1838. A 2011–2012 analysis of the human bones identifies a minimum of 44 adults (individuals 15 years and older) and 9 children (ages 14 years and younger) represented by at least 19 fairly intact bodies plus partial remains of an additional 34 individuals. Males and females are represented, and African and European ancestries are conveyed in the morphometric analysis of the crania. Patterned cuts indicating autopsy and dissection are present on several bones and identify the well as a repository for the disposal of cadavers used in medical teaching and training during the college’s formative years.


Autopsy Dissection Amputation Cadavers Trephination 



The authors thank those individuals that supported the study of the bones and the artifacts from the well on the Medical College of Virginia campus. Virginia Commonwealth University sponsored archival research, artifact documentation, and osteological analysis of the human remains. University Planner Russell T. Uzzle was critical in implementing the study. Archaeologist Dr. Dan Mouer recognized the significance of the remains and arranged for the initial curation of the bones. Sandra Cridlin participated in the initial study of the human remains as a VCU student. Megan Avera provided assistance in the sorting and documentation of the skeletal remains and Aleithea Warmack, Kathryn Barca, and Vicki Simon contributed support related to data entry and documentation. Photographs were taken by Brittney Tatchell and Don Hurlbert, Smithsonian Scientific Photographer. Kristen Quarles, Department of Scientific Imaging, Smithsonian Institution, processed all photographic images presented in this chapter. Thanks are also extended to the reviewers of this chapter who contributed their time and attention.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas W. Owsley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Karin S. Bruwelheide
    • 1
  • Richard L. Jantz
    • 2
  • Jodi L. Koste
    • 3
  • Merry Outlaw
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyNational Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian InstitutionWashington, DCUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Tennessee-Knoxville, Forensic Anthropology CenterKnoxvilleUSA
  3. 3.Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health SciencesMedical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth UniversityRichmondUSA
  4. 4.Archaeological and Cultural Solutions, LLCWilliamsburgUSA

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