Donald and Betty Timberlake recently met their great-great-grandfather for the first time. He was buried in an iron coffin in 1863 and disinterred because of encroaching development on the grounds of his former Virginia plantation. He's now being inspected at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History.
First, Shelley Foote, a specialist in 19th century clothing, examined the corpse.
"He was buried in a suit," she said. "The cutaway coat was typical of a man's daytime wear. It's a little unusual that the lapels have velvet facings. He must have been wearing a cotton shirt because cotton disintegrates quickly and there's no sign of it."
Pathologist Larry Cartmell took samples of hair, fingernails and body tissue, placing them in plastic bags for lab analysis.
"From the hair and fingernails, we can determine what medicines he was taking and how much he used tobacco and alcohol, Cartmell said. "We can do tests to determine how much meat he ate. We will x-ray the teeth to look at that abscess. We will put everything together and attempt to come up with a cause of death."
Asked her thoughts about viewing the remains of her great, great grandfather, Betty Timberlake shrugged. "It's all part of life. We live, we die, we decay." [Link]