The success of the US TV show ‘Crime Scene Investigation’, telling the exploits of a super-cool team of forensic scientists, has had the happy consequence of encouraging applications to study science at university. On the down side, juries in America are now asked to state whether they watch the series, as it has led to unrealistically high expectations of what information CSI technology can actually retrieve.
In modern Spain, the Civil Guard, once described by Lorca as having souls of patent leather (to match their helmets: ‘Con el alma de charol vienen por la carretera …’, Romance de la Guardia Civil), has moved with the democratic and technocratic times, and CSI is handled by a department of the Civil Guard, the Servicio de Criminalística.
In earlier days, when CSI was in its infancy, the best an officer investigating (for example) a case of lycanthropy could hope for was that the werewolf, once returned to human form, would retain injuries sustained while in canine state.
By the eighteenth century, science had moved on, as witness this item:
Discurso medico de las señales que distinguen al Hombre verdadero Ahogado del Sumergido en las Aguas despues de muerto; y modo mas verosimil de encontrar el motivo de su muerte. Con algunas advertencias en favor de los que pueden ser socorridos: sacadas de los mejores Autores. Por D. Christoval Nieto de Piña ... (Seville, 1776.) [Medical discourse on the signs which distinguish the true drowned man from the man submerged in water after death; and the most convincing method of finding the cause of death. With some notes in the cause of those who can be revived, taken out of the best authors.] British Library shelfmark RB.23.a.34568.
You probably don’t need telling that the key is the presence or absence of water in the lungs.
Nieto de Piña (1717-post 1790), of the Royal Medical Society of Seville, is known for opposing the new science of inoculation, advocating isolation hospitals instead. He also wrote in 1788 an article on the dangers of keeping liquours in lead containers. And another of his publications was again on a forensic topic: Instruccion medica para discernir, si el feto muerto, lo ha sido dentro, o fuera, del utero (Seville, 1781) [Medical instruction to determine whether a dead foetus has died in or out of the womb].
And finally. Please note: the ‘blood stain’ on the wrapper of our copy, affecting the title page, was there when we bought it. But we’re working on it ...
Barry Taylor, Curator Hispanic Studies