Relearning History: Scientists study boy's body, found in a rare cast-iron coffin





The rusty iron coffin stubbornly resisted hammer and chisel as researchers in a warm Smithsonian laboratory tried to get a glimpse of an American who lived more than 150 years ago. An electric drill finally freed the lid.

"This is a person and we want to tell this person's story. She is our primary obligation," anthropologist Doug Owsley said as the lid was lifted on a young body wrapped in a brown shroud.

The scientists hope to identify the remains so they can have a properly marked grave. In the process, they have a chance to learn about mortuary practices of the period, what disease and trauma people may have suffered, their diet, past environment, clothing and perhaps even social customs.

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