Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dissection and Anatomical ideas

Dissection and Anatomical ideas
The elaborate burial practices of the ancient Egyptians provided frequent opportunities for the observation of body parts.

Embalmers were adept at situating and extracting organs through tiny holes and slits in the body.

Egyptian graphic art may have been stylized, but the statuary reveals a sensitive appreciation of surface and underlying structure. Unlike the embalmers and artist, however the physicians do not appear to have used anatomy.

Our knowledge of ancient Egyptian medicine is based on a few surface papyri. Egyptian explanations of disease seem to have emphasized physiology, on which breath was the essence of life.

Blood vessels were hypothesized rather than known, and only a few organs were connected with specific functions. Some organs were associated with certain deities and used as hieroglyphics.

For instance, a stylized uterus, or sa, represented the goddess of childbirth. Because this symbol was bicornuate (had two horns), scholars think that the model may have been animal rather than human.

Ancient Greek sculpture reflects a preoccupation with the accurate portrayal of surface anatomy, with attention to the underlying muscles and bones.

Votive offerings left at temples by sick people hoping for cures were fashioned from clay or stone to resemble afflicted body parts – uterus, breasts, bladder and limbs – sometimes with anatomical derangements such as varicose veins.

Despite these artistic influences and their skill in observation, Greek doctors were not especially interested in anatomy. Dissection of human bodies was forbidden, and funeral practices centered on cremation.

Given the laws and funeral customs, few opportunities arose for examination of internal structure of humans. Exceptions are found in Hippocratic treaties on fractures and dislocation, which reveal extensive knowledge of bone and joints.

Illustration is essential to the teaching of anatomy, and the ban on dissection did not extend to animals. The fourth century BC philosopher and biologist Aristotle, appears to have used large diagrams when he taught the comparative anatomy of animals.

After about 300 BC the Greek city of Alexandra permitted dissection of the bodies of criminals, alive or dead. These public demonstration were designed to horrify as much as instruct.

That the practice was reserved for criminals indicates the social ambivalence regarding dissection, which could be seem as a desecration.

Two Alexandrians, Herophilus and Erasistratus, describe minute structures, including lymph lacteals, the meninges and vascular structures such as s torcular herophili.
Dissection and Anatomical ideas
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