Anatomical Museum at the University of Edinburgh

There are loads of fantastic museums here in Edinburgh but have you visited the Anatomical Museum at the University of Edinburgh? I had originally hoped to visit on the last Doors Open Day back in September but I underestimated just how popular a place this is and wasn't lucky enough to secure a slot to go. Luckily though they have regular open days when the public can view the exhibits (the rest of the time it's a study space for students and not open) so I made a point of keeping free the next date that coincided with it being open again so I could finally get there.


The museum is housed in the Medical School on Teviot Place. There are plenty of signs to point you in the right direction as you enter through a quadrangle, climbing some steps to arrive at the entrance and the sight of two huge elephant skeletons either side of it before climbing several more flights of steps to get to the display, don't worry though there are lifts available too. Seeing the elephant skeletons and the cases of other objects around them in this old building I couldn't help but think of the museums in London just full of ancient treasures waiting to be discovered. With the Medical School being founded in 1726 and the museum opening in 1884 I was also struck by the thought of the many students etc. who must have passed through those same doors throughout its history.

Once you are in the museum photography is not allowed due to laws governing the display of human remains. Not something I'd ever thought about but in hindsight quite understandable. Personally I didn't find it especially gruesome but I can appreciate that some people might do. Certainly what's there are not the kind of things you probably want to be sharing on your social media feeds, but it's definitely well worth a visit.

It's not a big museum but it still holds approximately 12,000 objects and specimens, both human and animal. There are also a variety of teaching aids and a large collection of items relating to the now dismissed study of phrenology, the practice of studying skulls to determine an individuals psychological attributes. The Edinburgh Phrenological Society was at the forefront of this body of scientific thought during its heyday and the items from their original museum eventually found a home at the university when it fell out of favour and the society museum closed in 1886.

Of course, perhaps the most interesting parts of the collection are the skeletons of some famous or maybe that should be infamous people from Edinburgh's history and without doubt the most well known of these is the murderer William Burke part of the infamous duo, Burke and Hare. When he was hanged for his crimes in 1829 his sentence also included that he be publicly dissected hence his skeleton ending up in the museum. There are also some other interesting skeletons there but you'll just have to go for yourself to find out about those.

As I said above the museum is only open on certain days to the public but is free to enter, though donations are welcome. If you're interested to visit yourself (and I'd recommend it) check their website for details of their regular open days.

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