It’s pretty tricky to get your timings right
for visiting the Anatomical Museum
as it’s only open on the last Saturday of
each month, and not at all in June, July or
December. But your forward planning will be
thoroughly rewarded by a tour of the most dramatic display of 300 years of
anatomical research. Back when the museum moved here in 1880, Edinburgh
was the world centre of anatomical teaching, and those who studied these
artefacts included Charles Darwin, Thomas Hodgkin, James Young Simpson
and Arthur Conan Doyle.
The entrance to the museum alone is quite breathtaking – two towering
elephant skeletons guard the doorway, a whale’s jawbone nestles into a high
arch and a 3D hologram morphs between the human organs, muscular
and nervous systems. The
main floor is filled with
skeletons, models and
preserved prosections. The
back wall is lined with white
plaster head casts used for
the study of phrenology,
including that of Franz
J o s e p h G a l l , f o u n d e r
o f t h i s n ow o u t d at e d
“science”. Though some of
the displays are not for the
faint of heart, many pieces
are unexpectedly beautiful,
such as the coral-like resin
casts of the lung’s vessels.
Star residents include
“Mercury Man” – a corpse
p r e s e r v e d i n l a c q u e r
who is the result of one
of the earliest methods
of studying the body’s
work ings, by merc ur y
injection, which would
trace the route of whichever system it entered. Mercury Man may be shrivelled and blackened but he
helped Alexander Monro II understand the lymphatic system.
Here too is the skeleton of the notorious William Burke, who is still carrying
out his 1829 sentence: to be hanged, dissected and put on display in the
museum, like those bodies he had so over-zealously supplied.
If you ask nicely, you can be taken up a winding back staircase to the artists’
garret, where diagrams for teaching were produced. In the corner is a hoist
to bring body parts up through a trapdoor from the dissection room below.
And in the centre stands a specially built display table, with a hole for draining
It’s worth organising yourself to get here soon as there are plans to move
the museum alongside the Surgeons’ Hall. This would have the advantage of
allowing many more of the thousands of objects to come out from storage in
the catacombs below Teviot, but the amazing sense of travel back to a time
when this place was at the heart of the scientific world would be sadly lost
A very interesting museum to visit if it is open. Only one room but a lot of material is housed there, with knowledgeable and friendly staff to help you out and explain some of the history behind the items).
There's a lot to learn and depending on when you go, it's not very busy which is a plus.
What a great experience! Don't expect too much entertainment, it is just one large room with a lot of facinating, but sparsely labeled objects. We spent about 30 minutes there, and I am glad we did. Entrance is free, and make sure it is indeed open before you go there!
FREE but... Incredibly crowded as it's only open the last Saturday of each month. Quite good displays to be seen but it's of no use if every parent in the city with a pram decides to come at the same time.