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Human Anatomy

This article explains the definition of the term 'anatomy' and illuminates the history of anatomy.

Definition of Anatomy

Skull - ventral view

Skull - ventral view

The term 'anatomy' derives from the ancient Greek meaning 'to dissect. As in veterinary anatomy, human anatomy is subdivided into macroscopic (or gross) and microscopic anatomy.

  • Macroscopic anatomy describes structures, organs, muscles, bones etc. which are visible to the naked eye, that is macroscopic. In order to establish a certain order they are divided topographically and systematically.
  • Microscopic human anatomy is the „study of tissues“, that is histology. It may be further separated into cytology, the pure study of cells. In contrast to macroscopic anatomy you require – as the name suggests - an optical magnification in order to evaluate microscopic (e.g. cellular) structures.
  • Embryology needs to be considered as part of human anatomy as well. It is the study of the development of the human body beginning from fertilization of the ovum until birth.

History of Human Anatomy

History of anatomy

History of anatomy

Human anatomy is an about 2000 year old scientific discipline. Historically seen since the first dissection of the human body in the third century B.C. in the old Egpyt there has been no rapid development - at least not in the beginning. In the following there are some interesting facts about the history of human anatomy.

As the physician of the gladiators and personal physician of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius Galen of Pergamon (129 – 199 A.D.) was predestined to study and research further on the field of anatomy. Due to the heavy injuries that the gladiators received through their battles Galen was able to gain impressive insights into the human body.

In the second century A.D. dissections were banned as they were performed on convicted criminals even while they were alive. After the ban the first documented legal dissection took place in the year of 1302 at the University of Bologna in Italy. Leonardo da Vinci who privately engaged himself in dissections of the human body early began to develop an interest to human anatomy. He had the ambition of both making scientific progress and combining human anatomy and contemporary art.

Andreas Vesalius (1514 – 1564) who had a strong influence on the scientific human anatomy researched on the human body by performing public dissections in so-called „anatomic theatres”.

Bernhard Albinus (1697 – 1747) revolutionized the teaching in human anatomy by not only drawing the detailed and individual preparations and organs but also functionally relating them to each other. Thus, for example, the skeletal system was not pictured isolatedly anymore but in relation to its associated muscles. For the first time the skull and the brain were described together in relationship to the spinal cord in detail. His drawings of cross-sections were published in high numbers.

In the 17th century with the introduction of the light microscope – which owes its name to Johann Faber von Bamberg (1574 – 1629) - the human anatomy was explored further. More and more eye-opening discoveries were made enhancing our current scientific level of knowledge.

Learning anatomy

Learning anatomy

Anatomy Today

Nowadays the teaching of human anatomy plays a crucial part in the education of medical and health students, nurses, practitioners, physiotherapists, biology students etc.

Without the study of human anatomy which is a basic prerequisite for any successful practicing physician one could hardly understand the pathology of organs, muscles or the skeletal system, and thus would lack the ability to diagnose and treat illnesses.

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Photo 1: Flickr / Double--M

Photo 2: Kenhub

Author & Layout:

  • Christopher A. Becker
  • Achudhan Karunaharamoorthy
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.

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