Strange Science: Corpse Consumption

MummyHumans have long believed in all sorts of weird remedies and supplements for their continued health. But cannibalism? That might be taking it a bit too far.

Nonetheless, Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries had a wide array of curatives that were derived from human body parts, mummified or otherwise. According to author Richard Sugg, who published Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: The History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians in 2012, “The question was not, ‘Should you eat human flesh?’ but, ‘What sort of flesh should you eat?'”.

Antholopologist Beth Conklin makes a distinction between New World cannibalism and European corpse medicine: “The one thing that we know is that almost all non-Western cannibal practice is deeply social in the sense that the relationship between the eater and the one who is eaten matters. In the European process, this was largely erased and made irrelevant. Human beings were reduced to simple biological matter equivalent to any other kind of commodity medicine.”

If you’d like to read more about the details of this gruesome form of medicine, check out this article from 2012 at Smithsonian Magazine.

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