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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Instructions for a voyage, 1609

A few weeks ago I looked at some manuscripts of the French intellectual and antiquarian Nicolas-Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637) at the Bibliothèque Méjanes in Aix-en-Provence, France.  I describe Peiresc as an “intellectual”; he was one of those universal scholars we find in early modern Europe who were interested in everything.  Peiresc’s fame, such as it …

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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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Discovering Brazil

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 2017 I am sitting in the sun on the roof of my hotel in Rio, looking at the heavily forested hills to the east, the high rise hotels lining the Copacabana to the south, the elaborate rooftop garden across the Avenida de Princesa Isabel, and beyond, the rickety tin shacks …

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Vesalius in Wonderland

Last month, artist Lisa Temple-Cox had a residency at Oregon State for two weeks as part of the Horning Series on "The Material Body" that I organized this academic year. Among the numerous talks and demonstrations she gave was this collaborative talk with art historian Glenn Harcourt on a joint project they are calling "Vesalius …

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The biologist in the ashram (with a walk-on by Harpo Marx)

12 September 2015 A week ago I drove up to Portland with my grad student Elizabeth to interview the biologist John Tyler Bonner. We were both amused, or bemused, by the declaration of the Institutional Review Board at Oregon State that the interview did not qualify as research (and therefore did not need IRB approval, …

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