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Human Cadaver Prosection

Saturday: April 19, 2014

I have been accepted into the 2014 International Human Cadaver Prosection Program. I have almost applied pretty much every year since the early 2000’s but chickened out – not necessarily because of its topic alone, but because I never understood the schedule well enough to know how it would impact my job. This year, my job is much different, and there is more meaning behind the program for me now than just as a curiosity.

Now, as a trained bioarchaeologist, one of the things I lack in formal education is a true gross anatomy experience. This program offers a crash course in that, and then the ability to observe it in the real. In the program, prosectors will prepare the donors for IU medical students. There are also several workshops, including suturing and radiography.

I am excited to be able to add this to my education! Out of over 200 applicants, only 48 were accepted so it is an honor, as well. One of the items included in the application packet was a description of what the experience will mean to me. I had to think for quite some time on a response. In bioarchaeology, working with ancient skeletons easily removes the connection to an identity – it is too difficult to really understand what a person looked like in life, and the social relationships that were broken when they died. But with a donor, the identity of a face and body is clearly there, and one of the things I really appreciate about the program is that the donors’ families are involved in a memorial service. For the donor to have offered their body in death as an educational tool is such an openly intimate gift, and I struggled with answering the questions in the application in the short length requirements.

I don’t believe I will have any trouble with the training, either. As I may have mentioned before, I grew up with my grandparents offering butchering services for deer (and they butchered their own cows). I more recently witnessed an autopsy being performed. I was very uncertain how I would handle that – such a different context obviously than a deer for meat. I was awed, though I know I would not want to be the one to do that day after day after day. I’ve always been drawn to the dead and decaying – the process of how life returns to earth simply intrigues me, what can I say?

Just this past weekend, I found a scapula in my woodpile, a full pelvis (with sacrum) in the woods, and my neighbor gave me a chipmunk his cat had killed (it’s sitting out back waiting to decay). When I get a chance, I’ll clean the bones up and identify what species they are. One of the things I would seriously consider for returning to graduate school to get a doctorate is zooarchaeology. I really enjoy comparative osteology and the ability to find something out there and know what it was!

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