Sunday, March 10, 2013

Medieval medical mummy

You are looking at the head and shoulders of a human preparation from the back. The top of the skull and the brain have been removed. "We did not think it was so antique," says researcher Philippe Charlier, a physician and forensic scientist at University Hospital R. Poincare in France. In fact it is the oldest known preserved human dissection in Europe. Radiocarbon dating puts the age of the body between A.D. 1200 and A.D.1280. What is so extraordinary about that? Because the Middle Ages have been traditionally understood to be a fallow period in the history of human dissection. As I learned when I researched my book Dissection on Display, they fall between the 2nd c. attempts by Galen to extrapolate human anatomy by examining apes and other animals and the revolutionary thinking and hands-on approach of Vesalius during the Renaissance. The anatomical bust may not be as visually spectacular as these 19th c. specimens, but Charlier says, "It's state-of-the-art."

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