Origin of Anatomy and Physiology

Updated: Nov 18, 2021

It is amazing what physicians and scientists have discovered about the human body. There is a long history of discoveries in medicine, and we continue to learn so much even today. There are seven systems and each one has a long history of research. Let’s take a walk-through time!

The Age of Enlightenment

Scientific discoveries were becoming very prevalent in Europe around the time religious laws were extremely aggressive and put fear in the people. In 1866, people became very curious, and scientists started to ask questions. This time became known as The Age of Enlightenment. Experiments were taking root and many discoveries were being made.

Prior to this time, there were many theories that were swirling. One of them was the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Darwin taught the theory of evolution and survival of the fittest. A series of events stemmed from his book and other scientists stepped forward. A debate was started as many disagreed people did not evolve from other animals. Parts of the body that Darwin raised in question were the appendix and the vertebra making up the coccyx, also known as the tail bone. He felt these proved that people had in fact evolved into what we are today.

This was also around the same time the first journal of Anatomy and Physiology was published which also received a lot of criticism. Dissections were being done on men and women comparing their anatomical differences. Publications were made of the human skull and there were many advances in microbiology. Instruments to perform experiments were being invented enabling scientists to study cells, bacteria, and other organisms.

The anatomy of people from various places all over the world started being compared. Something that really peaked everyone’s interest was the human skull. Scientists were curious if there were differences among different races and cultures. Vertebras of animals and people were also being studied. An example of this is comparing primates and humans to see if there are any similarities that could prove Darwin’s theory.

Studying the Nervous System

The brain and nervous system were more difficult to understand. Some of the first publications didn’t come out until 1878 in The Journal of Neurology. Parts of the brain were studied and compared with other findings. The human brain was also being compared with other species for similarities and differences.

As the human brain was dissected, theories were storming as to which parts were responsible for what. This went on for a long time and was constantly being corrected. For example, what part of the brain is responsible for sense of smell was originally incorrect the first time the findings were published.

A dissection was done on a man who was stated to be clinically insane and have an abnormal thinking pattern. Abnormalities were found in his brain when compared to those of people who did not suffer from mental illness. For example, the brain was found to be weigh less than the brain of a normal man.

The first studies of a human eye were done by a women named Ida Mann, who later published her findings on the journal.

Hormones or Messengers

In 1855, Claude Bernard began the theory of hormones, which at first were called messengers that were sending signals throughout the body in the bloodstream. The concept of organs and glands slowly started being discovered. The thyroid gland was being studied and was added to the journal, but no one knew of its function or purpose.

The pituitary gland, found in the brain, was written to be related to enlargement of the skeletal system. The pituitary gland of a man that died young after living with abnormally large bones was compared to the pituitary gland of normal adults. His gland was in a different location and was a different size.

The reproductive system of women was studied intensely, especially ovulation and the menstrual cycle. The male and female reproductive parts of humans were compared to the animals of a zoo to see if there were any comparisons.

Most correct information we have on hormones today wasn’t discovered until the late 1900’s!


We have learned so much about the anatomy of the human body and were able to make many advancements in the healthcare field. The reason so many discoveries were made is because of curiosity and a need to know why.


The Journal of Anatomy: Origin and Evolution by Gillian Morriss-Kay


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