Skeleton from biology class buried by students – SWR3

For decades, students have learned about biology using female bones. The skeleton has now found its final resting place in North Rhine-Westphalia. But who was dead?

Eleventh graders buried a skeleton from biology class at the Schleiden cemetery (NRW). He was carried in a blue coffin from the biology office of the Johannes-Sturmius Gymnasium to the cemetery.



The students of the Johannes-Sturmius Gymnasium carry the coffin with the bones of the school skeleton to the cemetery, where they were buried.  (Photo: dpa Bildfunk, image alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil)

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picture alliance/dpa | Robert Arrow


About 80 students, teachers and city officials were present when the bones of the unknown woman were lowered into the grave.



Students of the Johannes-Sturmius High School bury the coffin with the bones of the school skeleton in the cemetery.  (Photo: dpa Bildfunk, image alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil)

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picture alliance/dpa | Robert Arrow


The town bought the skeleton for the school in 1952, 70 years ago. At the time it cost 600 German marks, which would obviously be at least 1,300 euros in today’s purchasing power. Who the deceased was, from which region of the world she came from and how old she was at the time of her death, no one in Schleiden now knows for sure. The skeletal DNA sample could now clear up several outstanding questions if the school and community find the right institute for it, it said.

Blue coffin with religious symbols

The funeral took place at the city’s Protestant cemetery. But since no one knows if the woman was also religious, the students decided on an inter-religious ceremony. This means that the celebration does not conform to the rites of any particular religion.



A casket containing the bones of the school skeleton is laid out in biology class just before the students take it to the cemetery for burial.  (Photo: dpa Bildfunk, image alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil)

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picture alliance/dpa | Robert Arrow


The students of the eleventh grade received the coffin as a gift from the undertaker and redesigned it a little. They decorated it with symbols of world religions. By most common definitions, these include Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

It is not the first funeral of a school skeleton

The idea was not entirely new: if the corona pandemic had not intervened, the skeleton would have been buried earlier. The eleventh-graders gave the name “Anh Bian,” which means “mysterious peace” in Vietnamese, according to reporters involved. Google translate translates it as “brother”. According to Pastor Oliver Joswig, who was involved in the campaign, the model was a similar story that happened a few years earlier at a high school in Stolberg near Aachen. And there, in 2016, students buried the school skeleton. By the way, at the school in Schleiden, biology teachers have been using a plastic skeleton instead of human bones for several years.

Researchers rely on body donations

Even today it is possible to donate your body for research after death. This is also known as “body donation” and research institutions often have special rules for this.

Others also decide that their body should not be buried, but displayed in the controversial “Body Worlds” traveling exhibition.



Exhibition exhibit "corporeal worlds" as a pole vaulter in the large square in front of the church (Photo: SWR, Timo Staudacher)

SWR



Timo Staudacher


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