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Ancient Dissection - Re-enacted

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Dissection is the practice of cutting a body open to study its components, their location and arrangement for scientific purposes. Its history within the ancient world could be traced back to at least the 5th century BCE in Greece, and over the centuries it became a key technique for studying anatomy. During the Roman Imperial period private and public anatomical demonstrations were common, as was the circulation of anatomical texts among the educated elites. Although in antiquity dissections were mostly performed on animals (except for a limited period in Hellenistic Alexandria), the observations were often extrapolated to human anatomy. Such was the case of Galen, a physician active for much of his life in Rome during the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE.
His Anatomical Procedures is the largest extant collection of books aimed at instructing a varied audience in the dissection of animals. Unlike his other anatomical treatises, this text offers precise directions to carry out the procedure. Rather than limiting himself merely to the description bodily structures, Galen teaches his readership how to obtain that knowledge for themselves through hands-on dissection. The depth of detail and thoroughness of the descriptions, make it virtually impossible to follow the material without visual reference, or – as Galen himself seems to expect from his readers – without an actual specimen to dissect according to his guidance. This is precisely what we attempted to do; this website is the product of our attempt.
In a contemporary veterinary anatomical laboratory, we followed as thoroughly as we possibly could, Galen’s instructions for dissecting the abdomen, which he sets out in Anatomical Procedures book V, ch. 7 and book VI, chs. 4-7. To do this, our team of classicists and experts in modern human and veterinary medicine close-read the ancient text, distilled from it every step of the process (including the actions to be performed and the expected findings at each stage), and followed them in a modern re-enactment of an ancient dissection. We performed the process on a pig, an animal often dissected by Galen. Specifically, a female pig weighing ca. 50 kg.
The is the product of this experiment. We offer a multidimensional digital platform to follow Galen’s dissection of the abdominal wall and peritoneum. It aims at guiding the reader through the complexities of the text and the dissection with images and footage. We present, therefore, the raw textual evidence, our interpretation of that evidence, and visual aids to navigate the ancient material. Our hope is that this tool will provide you with new insights and a deeper understanding of this work.

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Ethics: The procedure was approved by the strict ethical screening of the European Research Council. The pig was not euthanised for this experiment. If you have any queries in this regard, please write to us through the feedback button above.
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