A Brief History of Human Anatomy

It is strongly believed by medical experts and historians that anatomy is the oldest medical science. Anatomy could be defined as the scientific study of the structure of animals, plants, and human beings. The term “anatomy” hails from the Greek words meaning “to cut up”, since knowledge of anatomy was obtained centuries ago through dissection. Human anatomy comprises the study of the structure of the muscles, blood vessels, skeleton, nerves and the various organs of our body. A thorough knowledge of the structure or layout pattern of the human body is vital for a detailed understanding of its function in health as well as disease.


Hundreds of years ago, people of almost all religions and beliefs strongly believed that the dead body was sacred and dissecting it or cutting it was considered a sacrilege. It was only after 400 B.C. that the Greeks gave the nod for occasional dissections. Centuries later – in the A.D. 100’s – , the physician Galen did manage to describe many structures of the human anatomy. But, his inferences were mainly based on the dissections of animals and his treatment of injured gladiators. It was only after A.D. 1300 that the dissection and anatomy earned recognition as part of medical education in Western Europe and a restricted number of human dissections was permitted each year.


In the year 1543, Andreas Vasilius published his masterpiece on anatomy that was purely based on dissections. It is since then that steady progress in human anatomy became visible and discoveries like that of William Harvey on blood circulation could become possible. Because of extensive knowledge of the human anatomy, the surgeon is able to operate on any part of the human body.


It is mandatory for all medical doctors, more so surgeons – and medical functionaries working in certain diagnostic specialties -, to know in depth, the structure of that part of the body which they have to treat. Not just doctors, even physical education teachers…

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