Introduction to Human Anatomy

Human anatomy is the science which deals with the structure of the human body. The term, ‘anatomy’ is derived from a Greek word, “anatome”, meaning cutting up. The term ‘dissection’ is a Latin equivalent of the Greek anatome. However, the two words, anatomy and dissection, are not synonymous. Dissection is a mere technique, whereas anatomy is a wide field of study.

Anatomy forms firm foundation of the whole art of medicine and introduces the student to the greater part of medical terminology. “Anatomy is to physiology as geography is to history, i.e. it describes the theatre in which the action takes place.”



Initially, anatomy was studied mainly by dissection. But the scope of modern anatomy has become very wide because it is now studied by  all possible techniques which can enlarge the boundaries of the anatomical knowledge.

The main subdivisions of anatomy are:

  1. Cadaveric anatomy is studied on dead embalmed (preserved) bodies usually with the naked eye (macroscopic or gross anatomy). This can be done by one of the two approaches: (a) In ‘regional anatomy‘ the body is studied in parts, like the upper limb, lower limb, thorax, abdomen, head and neck, and brain; (b) in’systemic anatomy” the body is studied in systems, like the skeletal system (osteology) (Fig. 1.1), muscular system (myology), articulatory system (arthrology or syndesmology), vascular system (angiology), nervous system (neurology), and respiratory, digestive, urogenital and endocrine systems (splanchnology).
  2. Living Anatomy is studied by inspection, palpation (Fig. 1.2), percussion, auscultation, endoscopy (bronchoscopy, gastroscopy), radiography, electromyography,
  3. Embryology (developmental anatomy) is the study of the prenatal developmental changes in an individual. The developmental history is called ‘ontogeny’. The evolutionary history on the other hand, is called ‘phylogeny’.
  4. Histology (microscopic anatomy) is the study of structures with the aid of a microscope.
  5. Surface anatomy (topographic anatomy) is the study of deeper parts of the body in relation to the skin surface. It is helpful in clinical practice and surgical operations.
  6. Radiographic and imaging anatomy is the study of the bones and deeper organs by plain and contrast radiography by ultra­ sound and computerised tomographic (CT) scans
  7. Comparative anatomy is the study of anatomy of the other animals to explain the changes in form, structure and function (morphology) of different parts of the human
  8. Physical anthropology deals with the external features and measurements of different races and groups of people, and with the study of the prehistoric remains.
  9. Applied anatomy (clinical anatomy) deals with application of the anatomical knowledge to the medical and surgical practice.
  10. Experimental anatomy is the study of the factors which influence and determine the form, structure and function of different parts of the body.
  11. Genetics deals with the study of information present in the chromosomes.



 Greek Period (B.C.)

Hippocrates of Cos (circa 400 B.C.), the ‘Father of Medicine’, is regarded as one of the founders of anatomy. Parts of Hippocratic collection are the earliest anatomical descriptions.

Herophilus of Chalcedon (circa 300 B.C.) is called the “father of anatomy”. He was a Greek physician, and was one of the first to dissect the human body. He distinguished cerebrum from cerebellum, nerves from tendons, arteries from veins, and the motor from sensory nerves. He described and named the parts of eye, meninges, torcular Herophili, fourth ventricle with calamus scriptorius, hyoid bone, duodenum, prostate gland, etc. We owe to him the first description of the lacteals. Herophilus was a very successful teacher, and wrote a book on anatomy, A special treatise of the eyes, and a popular handbook for midwives.

Roman Period (A.D.)

Galen of Pergamum, Asia Minor (circa 130-200 A.D.), the “prince of physicians”, practised medicine at Rome. He was the foremost’ practitioner of his days and the first experimental physiologist. He wrote voluminously and theorized and dogmatized on many medical subjects like anatomy, physiology, pathology, symptomatology and treatment. He demonstrated and wrote on anatomy De anatomicis­ administrationibus. His teachings were followed and considered as the infallible authority on the subject for nearly 15 centuries.


Fourteenth Century

Mundinus or Mondino d’Luzzi (1276-1326), the ‘restorer of anatomy’, was an Italian anatomist and professor ofanatomy at Bologna. He wrote a book Anathomia which was the standard anatomical text for over a century. He taught anatomy by dissection for which his text was used as a guide. He was the most renowned anatomist before Vesalius.


Fifteenth Century

Leonardo da Wnci of Italy (1452-1519), the originator of cross-sectional anatomy, was one of the greatest geniuses the world has known. He was  a  master  of arts and  contributed  substantially in mathematics, science and engineering. He was the first to describe the moderator band of the right ventricle. The most admirable of his works are the drawings of the things he observed with perfection and fidelity. His 60 notebooks containing 500 diagrams were published in 1898.


Sixteenth Century

Vesalius (1514-1564), the ‘reformer of anatomy’, was German in origin, Belgian (Brussels) by birth, and found an Italian (Padua) university favourable for his work. He was professor of anatomy at Padua. He is regarded as the founder of modem anatomy because he taught that anatomy could be learnt only through dissections. He opposed and corrected the erroneous concepts of Galen and fought against his authority, thus reviving anatomy after a deadlock of about 15 centuries. His great anatomical treatise De Febricia Humani Corporis, written in seven volumes, revolutionized the teaching of anatomy and remained as authoritative text for two centuries.

Vesalius studied first at Louvain and then at Paris under Gunther and Sylvius. Eustachius was the rival of Vesalius. The followers of Vesalius included Servetus, Columbus, Fallopius, Varolio, Viidius, etc.; all of them lived during 16th century.


Seventeenth Century

William Harvey (1578-1657) was an English physician who discovered the circulation of blood, and published it as Anatomical Exercise on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals. He also published a book on embryology.

The other events of this century included: (a) the first recorded human dissection in 1638 in Massachusetts; (b) foundation of microscopic anatomy by Malpighi; and (c) introduction of alcohol as a preservative.


Eighteenth Century

William Hunter (1718-1783) was a London anatomist and obstetrician. He introduced the present day embalming with the help of Harvey’s discovery, and founded with his younger brother (John Hunter) the famous Hunterian museum.


Nineteenth Century

Dissection by medical students was made compulsory in Edinburgh (1826) and Maryland (1833). Burke and Hare scandal of 16 murders took place in Edinburgh in 1828. Warburton Anatomy Act (1932) was passed in England under which the unclaimed bodies were made available for dissection. The ‘Act’ was passed in America (Massachusetts) in 1831. Formalin was used as a fixative in 1890s.

X-rays were discovered by Roentgen in 1895. Various endoscopes were devised between 1819 and 1899. The anatomical societies were founded in Germany (1886), Britain (1887) and America (1888).

The noted anatomists of this century include Ashley Cooper (1768-1841; British surgeon), Cuvier (1769-1832; French naturalist), Meckel (1724-1774; German anatomist), and Henry Gray (1827-1861; the author of Gray’s Anatomy).

 Twentieth Century

The electron microscope was invented in 20th century. It was applied in clinical practice, which made startling changes in the study of normal and diseased conditions. Various modifications of electron microscope, transmission EM and SEM, etc. were devised. These helped in better understanding of the body tissues.

Besides plain X-rays, in this century, ultrasonography and echocardiography were discovered. This was the non-invasive safe-procedure.

Also computer-axial tomography or CT scan, a non-invasive procedure and magnetic resonance imaging were devised. These were extremely useful, sensitive means of understanding the dynamics of body structure in health and disease.

Tissue culture was developed which was new and exciting field of research.

New advances in cases of infertility were discovered, which gave hopes to some infertile couples. GIFT: Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer got started



Twenty First Century

Foetal medicine is emerging as a newer subject. Even treatment ‘in-utero’ is being practised in some cases.

Human genome is being prepared. New research in drugs for many diseases, especially AIDS, is being done very enthusiastically. There is also a strong possibility of gene therapy.



Indian Anatomists

Dr. Inderjit Dewan worked chiefly on osteology and anthropology. Dr. D.S. Choudhry did notable work on carotid body.

Dr. H. Chaterjee and Dr. H. Verma researched on embryology. Dr. S.S. Dayal did good work in cancer biology.

Dr. Shamer Singh and his team did pioneering work on teratology.

Dr. Chaturvedi and Dr. C.D. Gupta’s prominent work was on corrosion cast.

Dr. L.V. Chak:o, Dr. H.N. Keswani, Dr. Veena Bijlani, Dr. Gopinath, Dr. Shashi Wadhwa of All India  Institute  of  Medical  Sciences, New Delhi, researched on neuroanatomy.

Dr. Keswani and his team established museum of history of medicine.

Dr. A.K. Susheela of AIIMS, New Delhi, has done profound work on fluorosis.

Dr. M.C. Vaidya was well known for his work on leprosy and HLA.

Dr. LB. Singh of Rohtak did enlightening studies on histology. He has been author of several books in anatomy.

Dr. A.K. Dutta of West Bengal has authored many books on anatomy. Amongst the medical educationists are Dr. Sita Achaya, Dr. Ved Prakash, Dr. Basu, Dr. M. Kaul, Dr. Chandrama Anand, Dr. Indira Bahl, Dr. Rewa Choudhry, Dr. Smita Kakar, Dr. Anita Tuli, Dr. Shashi

Raheja, Dr. Ram Prakash, Dr. Veena Bharihoke, Dr. Madhur Gupta, Dr. J.M. Kaul, Dr. Shipra Paul, Dr. Dharamnarayan, Dr. A.C. Das, Dr. A. Halim, Dr. D.R. Singh and many others.

Dr. Swama Bhardwaj, an educationist, was appointed as Executive Director of “DNB office” and has brought the institution to forefront.

Dr. Harish Agarwal, an anatomist, worked in jurisprudence for a number of years.

Dr. Cooper ofChennai, Dr. M. Thomas and Dr. Kiran Kucheria did commendable work on genetics.

Dr. Mehdi Hasan and Dr. Nafis Ahmad Faruqi did pioneering research in neuroanatomy.


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