The Teeth of Theutobochus

In January 1613, workers at an estate in the Dauphiné, in southeastern France, unearthed a number of large bones.  They included two mandibles with some teeth, a couple of vertebrae, what seemed to be a sternum, a shoulder blade, the heel and instep of a foot, the top of a humerus, and (the prize) a …

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An Anatomy Cabinet

Utrecht, Netherlands, July 2019 Among the many delights for a historian of medicine like me at the University Museum in Utrecht is a reconstructed anatomy cabinet from the late eighteenth century.  It contains objects from the collection of Jan Bleuland (1756-1838), professor of medicine and "rector magnificus" of the University.  Domenico Bertoloni Meli discussed Bleuland …

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The Possibility of Giants

Various large bones, discovered across Europe from around 1500 onward, raised the possibility among Renaissance naturalists and intellectuals that very large humans – some five or even ten meters tall – once existed in the past.  The idea of giant ancestors already was prominent among scholars: the hugely popular works of Annius of Viterbo, particularly …

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The Nun with Blue Teeth

I’m always looking for skeleton stories.  But it’s not often that I come across an article in the scientific literature that includes references to the ancient Greek physician and herbalist Dioscorides (ca. 40-90 CE) or the medieval abbess and scholar St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179).  So this open-access article in Science Advances, “Medieval women’s early …

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The Skeleton Trade

Although the human skeleton was well known as a symbol of mortality before 1500, the articulated skeleton does not seem to have come into its own as an object –scientific and artistic as well as symbolic – until the time of Vesalius.  Curiously ubiquitous, since everyone has one, but yet largely invisible, anatomists revealed the …

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A Dwarf and his Skeleton

Last month I spent some time in Special Collections at the University of Glasgow Library, looking at the catalogues of the anatomical preparations of London anatomist and man-midwife William Hunter (1718-1783).  Hunter, a Scot, left his collections to the University of Glasgow, where they still reside.   Among the anatomical preparations listed in 1784 was “A …

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