Ella Sexton July 23, 2020 Anatomy
This ancient discipline reached its culmination between 1500 and 1850, by which time its subject matter was firmly established. None of the world’s oldest civilizations dissected a human body, which most people regarded with superstitious awe and associated with the spirit of the departed soul. Beliefs in life after death and a disquieting uncertainty concerning the possibility of bodily resurrection further inhibited systematic study. Nevertheless, knowledge of the body was acquired by treating wounds, aiding in childbirth, and setting broken limbs. The field remained speculative rather than descriptive, though, until the achievements of the Alexandrian medical school and its foremost figure, Herophilus (flourished 300 bce), who dissected human cadavers and thus gave anatomy a considerable factual basis for the first time. Herophilus made many important discoveries and was followed by his younger contemporary Erasistratus, who is sometimes regarded as the founder of physiology.
The new application of magnifying glasses and compound microscopes to biological studies in the second half of the 17th century was the most important factor in the subsequent development of anatomical research. Primitive early microscopes enabled Marcello Malpighi to discover the system of tiny capillaries connecting the arterial and venous networks, Robert Hooke to first observe the small compartments in plants that he called “cells,” and Antonie van Leeuwenhoek to observe muscle fibres and spermatozoa. Thenceforth attention gradually shifted from the identification and understanding of bodily structures visible to the naked eye to those of microscopic size.
The human structure can be described as bipedal, with hair covering the body, presence of mammary glands and a set of extremely well-developed sense organs. With respect to human body anatomy, we have a specialized circulatory system that enables the efficient transport of materials and nutrients within the body.
This is the result of humans having ancestors that began walking on their hind limbs rather than using all four limbs. Most of our anatomical insight was gained through the dissection of corpses (cadavers), and for a long time, it was the only way we could gain anatomical knowledge about the human body. It was a rather grotesque affair, but it made up the bulk of medical literature for centuries. These days, technological innovation has made it possible to explore human anatomy at a microscopic level.
Thin sections and staining had become standard tools for microscopic anatomists by the late 19th century. The field of cytology, which is the study of cells, and that of histology, which is the study of tissue organization from the cellular level up, both arose in the 19th century with the data and techniques of microscopic anatomy as their basis.
Humans have evolved separately from other animals, but since we share a distant common ancestor, we mostly have a body plan that is similar to other organisms, with just the muscles and bones in different proportions.
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