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, 10 (2), 366-73

A Glimpse Into the Early Origins of Medieval Anatomy Through the Oldest Conserved Human Dissection (Western Europe, 13(th) C. A.D.)

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A Glimpse Into the Early Origins of Medieval Anatomy Through the Oldest Conserved Human Dissection (Western Europe, 13(th) C. A.D.)

Philippe Charlier et al. Arch Med Sci.

Abstract

Introduction: Medieval autopsy practice is very poorly known in Western Europe, due to a lack of both descriptive medico-surgical texts and conserved dissected human remains. This period is currently considered the dark ages according to a common belief of systematic opposition of Christian religious authorities to the opening of human cadavers.

Material and methods: The identification in a private collection of an autopsied human individual dated from the 13(th) century A.D. is an opportunity for better knowledge of such practice in this chrono-cultural context, i.e. the early origins of occidental dissections. A complete forensic anthropological procedure was carried out, completed by radiological and elemental analyses.

Results: The complete procedure of this body opening and internal organs exploration is explained, and compared with historical data about forensic and anatomical autopsies from this period. During the analysis, a red substance filling all arterial cavities, made of mercury sulfide (cinnabar) mixed with vegetal oil (oleic and palmitic acids) was identified; it was presumably used to highlight vascularization by coloring in red such vessels, and help in the preservation of the body.

Conclusions: Of particular interest for the description of early medical and anatomical knowledge, this "human preparation" is the oldest known yet, and is particularly important for the fields of history of medicine, surgery and anatomical practice.

Keywords: cadaver; death; forensic anthropology; history of medicine; medical anatomy; medical ethics; paleopathology; status of body.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Anterior view of the human anatomical preparation (with permission from Bill Jamieson)
Figure 2
Figure 2
Superior and posterior view of the human anatomical preparation (with permission from Bill Jamieson)
Figure 3
Figure 3
Close view of the inferior section surface showing the red filling of supra-aortic arteries
Figure 4
Figure 4
Radiological aspect of the dense filling of supra-aortic arteries
Figure 5
Figure 5
CT scan aspect of the human anatomical preparation (bone density) showing the skeleton, dentition and artery filling
Figure 6
Figure 6
Raman spectra (red lines) of white (A), red (B) and dark (C) zones of the red substance. Blue lines correspond to reference spectra (A: gypsum, B: cinnabar and C: amorphous carbon, “natural brown 8”)
Figure 7
Figure 7
Chromatogram of the binding media of the cinnabar sample with highlighting of the main molecular markers. Fatty acids are methylated and cholesterol is silylated

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