A brief history of the study of human anatomy
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A Brief History of the Study of Human Anatomy. Early Egyptians. Perfected the science of mummification . Major organs were removed and placed in jars. Body cavity was filled with a “sawdust-like” material. Body was wrapped in linen cloth shrouds. Alexandria, Egypt.

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Early egyptians
Early Egyptians

  • Perfected the science of mummification.

  • Major organs were removed and placed in jars.

  • Body cavity was filled with a “sawdust-like” material.

  • Body was wrapped in linen cloth shrouds.

Alexandria egypt
Alexandria, Egypt

  • The study of anatomy flourished in Alexandria between 300-150 B.C.

  • Only criminals were allowed to be dissected because these early cultures were very superstitious and believed that an intact body was necessary for a successful afterlife.

Roman influence
Roman Influence

  • In 30 B.C. Alexandria was conquered by the Roman Empire.

  • The Romans were interested in power, wealth and military strength, not in anatomical studies.

  • Romans outlawed anatomical studies and human dissections.

Galen of pergamen
Galen of Pergamen

  • Perhaps one of the brightest spots in the early history of anatomy was the work of a Greek physician named Galen (120-300 A.D.).

  • Galen had been trained in the Alexandrian tradition and wanted to further the scientific study of the human body.

Galen of pergamen 120 300 a d
Galen of Pergamen120-300 A.D.

Galen s work
Galen’s Work

  • Because human dissections were outlawed by the Romans, Galen wrote an anatomy textbook based on his dissections of the Barbary ape, a primate similar to man.

  • While the text was helpful it had many inaccuracies.

Galen s influence
Galen’s Influence

  • Galen’s anatomy textbook, based on the dissection of the Barbary ape, became the accepted authority on human anatomy for 1300 years!

  • How could this be?

The dark ages 400 1100 a d
The Dark Ages (400 – 1100 A.D.)

  • Barbarians from Asia, such as Attila and the Huns, overran and destroyed the Roman Empire.

  • Many of the scientific writings were destroyed.

Dark ages
Dark Ages

  • Fortunately some of these documents were salvaged by the Moslems and translated into their language, Arabic.


  • About 1100 A.D., Christian scholars discovered these Arabic translations and began the slow process of translating them into Latin.

  • This exposed a wealth of lost and forgotten information.

  • Not until the 16th century were these works finally translated.

First autopsy
First Autopsy

  • In the year 1286 we have reference to a human dissection being performed to determine the cause of death.

  • Today, this procedure is called an autopsy.

Rise of medical schools
Rise of Medical Schools

  • By the early 1300’s anatomical studies were again becoming fashionable.

  • In the medical schools in Italy anatomy professors were highly respected figures and so they would sit in large throne-like chairs, wear academic robes, and read from the re-translated text of Galen.

Rise of medical schools1
Rise of Medical Schools

  • Barbers actually performed the dissections on human subjects while students stood and observed.

  • Students were not allowed to participate in the dissections.

A major contribution
A Major Contribution

  • During the early Renaissance years, artists, sculptors and painters strove to make their artwork as human and life-like as possible.

  • To do this, they had to study human anatomy on a first-hand basis; that is, they had to perform their own human dissections.

A major contribution1
A Major Contribution

  • One of the most famous of these Renaissance artists was Leonardo DaVinci.

  • His anatomically accurate drawings gave to anatomists for the first time illustrations with correct anatomical proportions and great attention to detail.

Andreas vesalius
Andreas Vesalius

  • The man who revolutionized the study of anatomy was Andreas Vesalius.

  • He realized that to learn anatomy students needed to be involved with the dissections.

  • He also realized that Galen’s textbook was severely flawed and must be replaced.

Andreas vesalius1
Andreas Vesalius

  • Vesalius revolutionized the study of anatomy by doing away with the barbers, instead doing human dissections himself and having students assist instead of just observe.

  • He also published his own anatomy textbook which contained many anatomically accurate drawings based on human dissections.

Killing sacred cows
Killing Sacred Cows

  • Vesalius introduced the idea of “killing sacred cows”, that is, challenging accepted authority for the purpose of improving it.

  • Because of his revolutionary work at the University of Padua, Andreas Vesalius is considered to be the “Father of Modern Anatomy”


  • Vesalius was replaced at the University of Padua by a man named Fabricius.

  • Fabricius discovered the presence of one-way valves in veins, he called them the “little doors”.

William harvey
William Harvey

  • The English physician, William Harvey, a student of Fabricius, became interested in the circulation of the blood.

  • Harvey was the first person to describe the heart as a pump for blood and he also described arteries and veins as blood vessels that carry blood throughout the body.

William harvey1
William Harvey

  • Harvey showed that “function can be inferred from structure”and thus became known as the “Father of Physiology”.

Marcello malpighi
Marcello Malpighi

  • With the development of the microscope, the Italian anatomist, Marcello Malpighi was able to see the tiny blood vessels that Harvey could not see but had predicted their presence.

  • These tiny vessels Malpighi named “capillaries”, which means “hair-like” in Latin.