Pastrana to be buried in Mexico

Due to historical incidents, the remains of Julia Pastrana (1834-1860), also known as “The Ape Woman”, have been stored at the Institute of basic medical sciences at the University of Oslo since 1997. It has now been decided that Pastrana shall be buried in her home country.

Julia Pastrana

Julia Pastrana. Illustration: Wikimedia Commons

During the period of time in which Pastrana’s remains have been kept at the University of Oslo (UiO), the body has never been exhibited, nor has it ever been used for teaching or research purposes.

Historical Background

  • Julia Pastrana was born in Mexico in 1834. She suffered from the rare condition congenital hypertrichosis with gingival enlargement. This genetic disorder gave her symptoms like abnormal hair growth in the face and body, and an over dimensioned jaw.
  • Pastrana performed at exhibition tours arranged by American impresario Theodore Lent, who she also married.
  • In 1860, Pastrana gave birth to her and Theodore Lent’s son, but died from birth related complications. The son had the same condition as his mother, and passed away shortly after birth. Lent sold Pastrana’s and the son’s remains to Moscow University, where the bodies were embalmed. Pastrana’s husband later bought the bodies back from the University, and continued touring with the bodies, exhibiting them.
  • After Lent’s death, Pastrana’s and her son’s remains were sold to a circus manager. In 1921, they were bought by Haakon Lund, manager of the biggest funfair in Norway at the time. Lund toured the Nordic countries exhibiting the bodies.
  • The Lund family possessed the bodies until 1976, when they were stolen from a storeroom in Oslo. The remains of Pastrana’s son were lost, and the remains of Pastrana were eventually placed at the Institute of Forensic Medicine, then part of UiO.
  • In response to a suggestion that her remains should be included among the exhibits for a scheduled medical museum, in 1994 the Board of UiO recommended that Pastrana should be buried. Before the burial, DNA samples for future research were to be taken.
  • In 1995, the Ministry of Education, Research and Church Affairs requested a new evaluation of the case. A UiO committee issued a detailed statement concerning museum purposes, education purposes, historical interest and medical research interest. Based on these evaluations, the ministry instructed UiO to store the remains in a dignified manner, and keep them available for research. In 1997, the remains were moved to better storing conditions at the Institute of basic medical sciences, UiO.
  • In 2012 the Ministry of Education and Research asked the University of Oslo for a fresh evaluation of the need for research on Pastrana’s remains. UiO then decided that Pastrana should be transported to Mexico and buried in her home country. The Institute of basic medical sciences is currently in dialogue with the Mexican Embassy in Copenhagen regarding the transportation.
  • In June 2012, The Norwegian National Committee for the Evaluation of Research on Human Remains issued a statement concluding that the time has come for Pastrana to be buried in a dignified manner, and that scientific samples from her remains should first be taken.
  • Documentation using MR and CT scans, as well as DNA samples of Pastrana's remains have been secured. Research projects aiming towards increased knowledge about Pastrana's condition may be permitted if they are approved by The National Committee for Medical and Health Research Ethics.  Such research projects will be framed by (eller "carried out within the frame of") a collaboration between the Institute of basic medical sciences and The National Institute of Genomic Medicine in Mexico.
Published Aug. 15, 2012 11:43 AM - Last modified Mar. 15, 2019 10:08 AM