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The Claw


How old does a human body part have to be before its display is distasteful? Is it ever right to keep human body parts as souvenirs. The historians say it's quite probable that the people of Scotland were once head-hunters. But that was a long time ago. I recently came across a 1908 photo of a shrivelled claw that purported to be the hand and forearm of Scottish Cavalier James Graham, better known to history buffs as Montrose. A reasonably strong case was made for it being one of the limbs hacked off Montrose's body after he was hanged as a traitor in 1650 and sent off for public display in either Perth or Dundee. Certainly, the two nail holes suggest that it was pinned to something somewhere at some point. The aforementioned appendage had shown up in Yorkshire and I understand that as recently as 2001 someone there was trying to sell it. As a kid, I saw plenty of jaw bones, skulls, and other body parts in museums and never gave them a second thought. I remember being a little uneasy about a mummy in one of Glasgow museums but I was just a kid and there wasn't a lot I could do about it. Maybe it was the fact that the Montrose Claw still had flesh on it that made it so distasteful. Or maybe it was because it may have belonged to an identifiable, not to say sympathetic, human being. But I suppose all those skulls, jaw bones, hands, etc, were all parts of living and loved human beings at one time. Perhaps the time has come to clear all the museum cabinets of human remains. Let's show some respect to all people's dead ancestors. There can't really be much scientific value these days in keeping the heads of Africans, Pacific islanders and Aborigines in over-sized pickle jars. 

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