Not Just a ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’

After walking past the Surgeon’s Hall Museum and the Anatomical Museum countless times, I decided to visit both of them for a Saturday full of medical marvels. Lucky for me, it was the last Saturday of the month, meaning the Anatomical Museum was open and free to the public. I have heard of warnings about visiting the Anatomical Museum and to not go if I had a weak stomach. I decided to visit anyway. Good thing I ate a light breakfast.

The Anatomical Museum


Located in the Medical School of the University of Edinburgh, the Anatomical Museum holds an impressive 12,000 object collection including a cast of Robert Burns’ head, the skeleton of William Burke (the murderer who killed people to supply corpses for the anatomy school) and a giant fossilized jaw bone of a whale. Pictures were not allowed in the museum because of the delicate and disturbing nature of the items. Skeleton footprints on the floor throughout the museum acted as a guide for visitors. What I found surprising was that young children passed slices of harvested brain matter and organs without batting an eye. Meanwhile I looked at every single item in the museum with apt fascination and disgust, but no matter how gross or weird the sight was, I could not turn away. One such sight was in the middle of the exhibit, a preserved skeleton of a man from centuries ago that did not degenerate fully to bone. It looked sooty and decayed but because of preservation methods, it is still obviously the body of a man, with a recognizable, and scary, face. The museum is a truly an amazing spectacle of the history of the study of anatomy and its place in Edinburgh’s history. I highly recommend visiting it if you have the chance. Be sure not to miss the sign near the exit door inviting visitors to donate their corpses to anatomy, including a phone number to call for more information.


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Surgeon’s Hall Museum


Opened seven days a week, the Surgeon’s Hall offers visitors an impressive, varied history of surgery and how it has developed over the years. Students get entrance into the museum for only four pounds, a great deal for the vastness of the museum. Some of the exhibits include their Dental Collection, History of Surgery and the Wohl Pathology Museum with case after case of preserved organs and bones showing different medical issues like tumors, diseases, stab wombs and bullet holes. The museum covers all aspects of surgery as an expanding field including the role of apothecaries, the development of antiseptic and anesthesiology, tools used throughout the years as well as sections on medicine during war and women in the medical profession. Outside of the Wohl Pathology exhibit, everything is fairly easier to look at and learn about without wanting to get sick. The Wohl Pathology Museum is a different story though. I was doing pretty okay until I saw one case with a giant, head sized hair ball that was found in someone’s stomach which made me want to do more than just gag. This museum is absolutely not for someone with a weak stomach. As with the Anatomical museum, I definitely recommend visiting but I would not eat right before going just in case the hair ball is too much of a sight to see.


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