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B O DY


‘A fairy tale’


Writing in 1896, German physicist Otto Lummer reported: ‘In reading the preliminary communication, ‘On a New Kind of Rays,’ sent to me by Professor Röntgen a few days ago, I could not help thinking that I was reading a fairy tale, though the name of the author and his sound proofs soon relieved me of any such delusion. There it was printed in black and white, that one could photograph metal weights in a closed wooden box, and that one could print the bones of the living hand upon the photographic plate as if by magic.’


A premonition of death


In Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain (1924), protagonist Hans Castorp sees his cousin Joachim undergo an X-ray, and is alarmed by the sight of a beating heart. When he asks for his own hand to be X-rayed, he sees that ‘which no man was ever intended to see and which he himself had never presumed he would be able to see: he saw his own grave.’


All-seeing eyes


The ongoing appeal and intrigue of seeing beneath the skin is encapsulated in ‘X-ray specs’, a product commonly advertised in the back pages of comic books. The ‘amazing’ glasses illustrate the broader human desire to know more and – as with comic- book heroes and the foes they face – to acquire superhuman abilities.


Read


Glasser O. Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen and the Early History of the Roentgen Rays. San Francisco: Norman Publishing; 1989.


Gunderman RB. X-Ray Vision: The evolution of med- ical imaging and its human significance. New York: Oxford University Press; 2013.


Mould RF. A Century of X-rays and Radioactivity in Medicine: With emphasis on photographic records of the early years. London: Institute of Physics Publishing; 1993.


Plate from A History of Egyptian Mummies and an Account of the Worship and Embalming of Sacred Animals by the Egyptians, 1834 Thomas Joseph Pettigrew b12830653 Wellcome Library


In 1833, Thomas Joseph Pettigrew (1791–1865), the son of a surgeon-turned-apothecary, embarked on a campaign of public ‘mummy unrolling’ that would help transform mummified bodies from anatomical specimens to manufactured entertainment experien- ces. Pettigrew’s unrollings took place in hospitals and scientific institutions, but were attended by princes, peers and members of parliament. In one sold-out


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Looking inside mummified bodies


Although dissections of mummified bodies date back to at least the 1650s, the first modern medical autopsy was conducted by Augustus Bozzi Granville (1783–1872) in 1825. Granville noted the dimensions of bones and body parts, estimated the age at death and made a stab at the cause of death. The Reading Room’s virtual autopsy table allows visitors to explore inside a number of mummified bodies in a less intru- sive way, thanks to the power of medical imaging and digital rendering.


‘Mummy unrollings’


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