Human Body: A Visual Encyclopedia
The process of finding out how the incredibly complex human body works started thousands of years ago—long before there were medical schools and devices that enabled doctors to look inside the body. Even today, thanks to huge advances in technology, we are still making new discoveries about the workings of the body.
Claudius Galen was an important Roman-Greek surgeon and philosopher. In the early 160s ce, he was put in charge of treating wounded gladiators. As a result, Galen learned much about the human body and although many of his ideas were wrong, he discovered that arteries carried blood and that urine was made in the kidneys.
◀ ROMAN MOSAIC In ancient Rome, gladiators fought to the death, inflicting horrific wounds on each other.
Many ancient cultures contributed towards a greater understanding of how the body works. The Egyptians, for example, realized that the heart was at the center of a system that drove the blood and that the pulse was related to the heartbeat. They also gained some knowledge about the body’s internal organs during a process called mummification. This involved removing the major organs of the dead and preserving them in jars placed alongside the body in the tomb.
◀ CANOPIC JARS
The ancient Egyptians placed body organs in stone or ceramic vessels known as canopic jars. There was a different jar for each of four main organs—the lungs, stomach, liver, and intestines.
In early medieval times, knowledge about the workings of the human body was still largely based on many of Galen’s theories. It was not until the 1400s, when laws on dissecting corpses were relaxed in some countries, that anatomists could study the body and try to find out how the bones, muscles, and body systems worked.
WAXWORKS OF ART
Detailed anatomical wax models became popular in the 1700s for teaching medical students about the human body. They were brightly colored and clearly showed the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and internal organs in 3-D. The most famous and earliest collection of anatomical wax models is at the oldest scientific museum in Europe, La Specola in Florence, Italy.
◀ LIFELIKE LIMB
This wax model of an arm was made in Italy in the 1800s. Such models provided medical students with a fantastic tool for understanding the internal workings of the body. WOW!Body snatching—digging up and stealing dead bodies from graves for medical students to dissect—was widespread in some countries from about 1750 to 1850.
◀ THE GREAT LADY
This drawing by Leonardo, known as The Great Lady, shows the internal body organs in great detail.
In the late 1400s, when Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci was given permission to dissect corpses, he used his skill to draw many anatomically precise pictures. But in an age when the printing press was still a new invention, Leonardo’s drawings remained unseen. The breakthrough came in 1543, when Flemish doctor Andreas Vesalius published his book On the Structure of the Human Body, providing a valuable medical reference tool.
◀ TEACHING ANATOMY During the 1400s, wooden anatomical models, such as the ones show here, were used as medical teaching aids. BODY
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