• Susan Elaine Jones

No photos, no litter

I finally had the time, energy and a willing chaperone to be able to book a Pathology Museum event. Housed at St Bart's - which is famous for many things, including Sherlock's suicide scene. So I had wanted to visit for many reasons. This one, Remains to be Seen, was a talk by the exceptional Carla Valentine. There is no point me trying to summarise her very excellent talk. Go book an event yourself and see the magic first hand!

Having a booking to an event also meant rare access to the museum. With only 30 minutes to browse the entire ground floor of the museum, grab a prime seat and a glass of wine, I made what notes and sketches I could, whilst trying to absorb every scrap of information into my poor tiny brain.

As often happens when I visit a museum, I see a new surprising artifact that makes me question another thing about my own body. In addition to my amazingly accurate and scientifically invaluable sketches shown above, (which may be second only to the scientific records of the Ascension Island Rail - really, I may be a drawing virtuoso, but I still prefer photographs) I made the following notes:

human brain. very wonky. pathology?

That is to say there was a human brain preserved in full, shown from below. And it is very asymmetric. One side was significantly bigger than the other. Obviously many people have a slight asymmetry, but this seemed on the higher side of the curve. Also the whorls and folds were different on each side. I had always been under the impression that the whorls would be almost a mirror image of each other. Indeed some of the fissures have names and appear in common with many other mammal brains. I only know this as I had the luck to be allowed to visit and photograph in the backrooms of the OUMNH. But unfortunately I couldn't see the human brains, so the one at St Bart's is the only real human brain I have ever seen up close.

So I am still questioning myself - are humans all loppy-sided in the head? Is it actually a design we have - like the heart on one side of the chest? Or is it because this individual suffered a disease that caused a deformity?

I feel it is a real shame that as an interested human being, this, along with many other questions, are so difficult to answer.

I understand that there is a big concern about respect. And, as if to reinforce the point, on the way up the stairs to the museum, there is a Roman sarcophagus (very similar to the one in the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology). I would say that this one is empty. However, I have to be more careful with my words... it is unoccupied, but may not be entirely empty, as the accompanying sign points out.

However, there is respect and there is information. A plastic model, as individual as a lego person, is not a full representation of the magnificent variety found in nature. As I have an interest in health, mainly due to a great deficiency of the stuff, it seems primitive that if I cannot travel to visit these places in person, I am not able to view photographs of the objects, in the name of respect. I would hate be in charge of a museum, trying to excite, engage and encourage curiosity in the public with such a limitation on sharing the objects of wonder.

#StBarts #Sherlock #Pathology #publicaccess