Child mummy returned to University of Maryland

Ronn Wade gingerly picked up the package wrapped in a simple white sheet and placed it on an examining table before slowly unwrapping the layers.

And there it was.

The mummified remains of a small child that had disappeared from University of Maryland School of Medicine years ago. With one look Wade knew it was part of the famed Burns Collection, an obscure set of medical mummies once used for dissection and the training of medical students and acquired by the university in 1820.

"This little fellow has been classically prepared just the way the others were in the collection," said Wade, the curator who has cared for the collection since 1974.

The mummy's left arm had been ripped off and two ribs and part of the clavicle seemed to be cut away. But as Wade examined the body, he said it appeared to be in pretty good shape.

It is not known when the child disappeared from the university. It was found for sale on eBay in Port Huron, Mich., on Oct. 10, 2006, under the category of medical specimen and has spent the last five years in a police evidence room there.

It was finally sent back to the university — by regular U.S. mail — and arrived Monday. On Tuesday, Wade opened the package sent in a cardboard box marked "fragile" and "don't shake." It cost about $70 to send.

The child mummy wasn't the first piece to go missing from a collection once believed to have topped 500 items. They were stolen or lost, probably borrowed by students or professors and never returned, said Wade, also director of the anatomical services division at the medical school.

The collection was created in the early 1800s by Scottish anatomist Allen Burns. He was considered skilled, though he had no formal training and had been convicted of body-snatching. Before he died in 1813, he gave the collection to his protégé, Granville Patterson, who was later hired at Maryland and sold the collection to the school.

The age and sex of the child mummy haven't been determined, but it is believed to be a young boy. It's also unclear what journey the mummy has made over the years or how it ended up in Michigan.

"It is about 3-feet tall," Wade said. "It was definitely up walking around at some point."

Wade said he'll send the body for X-rays and CT scan and try to figure out more about its identity. He said it is believed to be the oldest child in the collection.

"It is good to have it home," Wade said.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad