Halloween is just around the corner, and the skeletons have come out of the closet. From front yards reimagined as graveyards to bone-chilling retail displays and party backdrops rattling with more than a few spare ribs, bones are on display to awaken the Halloween spirit and set a ghoulish mood to the delight of trick-or-treaters everywhere.
The modern-day Halloween is derived from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. With the Celtic new year celebrated on November 1, October 31 marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the cold, dark winter. Samhain, celebrated the evening of October 31, was believed to be a time when the boundary between the worlds of life and death were blurred, allowing the ghosts of the dead to return (History.com 2019).
Over time, Halloween has evolved into the costume-wearing, trick-or-treating holiday that it is today, but the season’s association with death has remained, evidenced by the proliferation of ghosts and skeletons intertwined with modern-day celebrations.
Embracing the Halloween season’s bony obsession, this month’s book of the month is one devoted to the skeleton — Osteographia (1733), which has been described as “one of the most important and beautiful books in the British anatomical tradition” (Neher 2010, 517). This work is freely available in BHL thanks to the Library and Archives of the Natural History Museum in London.