Happy Valentines Day…

Happy Valentines Day!

Cupid dissecting a heart in a book published in Verona, the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – does it get more romantic than this?! I don’t think so.

From ‘Cardiomorphoseos sive ex corde desumpta emblemata sacra’ by Francesco Pona, published in Verona, Italy 1665.

L0029157 Francesco Pona, Cardiomorphoses sive ex corde... Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Cupid dissecting a heart. Scrutator es tu. Cardiomorphoseos sive ex corde desumpta emblemata sacra Francesco Pona Published: 1665 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images


The Spooky Saturday Collection: October 2016

Through October I shared some of the creepiest illustrations from my 2016 archived collection using #SpookySaturday on Facebook and Twitter.

In the four Saturdays leading up to Halloween, we looked a one gruesome artwork each week – now it’s time to vote for the spookiest!


1. 'Mummified cadaver' from Atlas of Legal Medicine by Eduard von Hofmann, 1898. The body of this 50 year old man wasn't discovered until 10 years after he hanged himself in his attic.

1. ‘Mummified cadaver’ from Atlas of Legal Medicine by Eduard von Hofmann, 1898. The body of this 50 year old man wasn’t discovered until 10 years after he hanged himself in his attic.


2. 'Resection of the maxilla' by Nicolas Henri Jacob from 'Traité complet de l'anatomie de l'homme' by Marc Jean Bourgery, 1831. Anaesthetic was first used in 1846...

2. ‘Resection of the maxilla’ by Nicolas Henri Jacob from ‘Traité complet de l’anatomie de l’homme’ by Marc Jean Bourgery, 1831. Anaesthetic was first used in 1846…


3. 'Abnormal twins and placenta' from 'Anatomie pathologique du corps humain' by Jean Cruveilhier, 1829

3. ‘Abnormal twins and placenta’ from ‘Anatomie pathologique du corps humain’ by Jean Cruveilhier, 1829


4. 'Severe tubercular leprosy (or ichthyosis) of the hand' from the Wellcome Library, London (original source unknown)

4. ‘Severe tubercular leprosy (or ichthyosis) of the hand’ from the Wellcome Library, London (original source unknown)

The Spooky Saturday Collection: October 2015

This October saw Spooky Saturday 2015 on Facebook and Twitter; a collection of some the most gruesome anatomical artworks I’ve curated through the year.

In the lead up to Halloween, we looked a one artwork each week in a ‘gruesome-off’, let’s see who won and put it to a vote!

Take a look at the four artworks below and cast your vote in the poll!


1. 'Tubercules' from 'Traité des Maladies de la Peau' by Pierre François Rayer,1835

1. ‘Tubercules’ from ‘Traité des Maladies de la Peau’ by Pierre François Rayer,1835


2. 'Surgical technique for correcting a lazy eye' from 'Traite complet de l'anatomie de l'homme' by Jean Baptiste Marc Bourgery, 1831.

2. ‘Surgical technique for correcting a lazy eye’ from ‘Traite complet de l’anatomie de l’homme’ by Jean Baptiste Marc Bourgery, 1831.


3. 'Fetal skeleton, placenta and embryo, and examples of arteriosclerosis' from Thesaurus Anatomicus by Frederik Ruysch, 1701.

3. ‘Fetal skeleton, placenta and embryo, and examples of arteriosclerosis’ from ‘Thesaurus Anatomicus’ by Frederik Ruysch, 1701.


4. 'Neoplasm from a rabbit, cartilagenous deposits on the spinal cord, ulcerated Peyer's patches on the small intestine, ulcerated small intestine, intestinal stricture, contractile tissue from a healed burn.' from 'Pathological Anatomy' by Sir Robert Carswell, 1838.

4. ‘Neoplasm from a rabbit, cartilagenous deposits on the spinal cord, ulcerated Peyer’s patches on the small intestine, ulcerated small intestine, intestinal stricture, contractile tissue from a healed burn.’ from ‘Pathological Anatomy’ by Sir Robert Carswell, 1838.

10 Formaldehyde-Inspired Festive Gift Ideas

It’s that time of year again to get the Christmas songs playing, put on some mulled wine and settle down to some online Christmas shopping. Here you will find a selection fabulous formaldehyde-inspired gift ideas for any anatomy enthusiast. And remember to treat yourself this festive season too…

So where to start? Firstly, you’re going to need a Christmas card. Put a smile on someone’s face with something humerus, get it?!…


Next, you’ll need to choose a gift for that special someone who appreciates the anatomical. Here are some ideas to get you started.







So it’s going well. Card written, gifts purchased, but wait, you still need gift wrap! Not to fear, you can even buy wrapping paper and gift tags for that skeleton-loving someone, not to mention the coolest sticky tape ever made.



9. ‘Vintage Anatomy Tags‘ from Angelica Night. £1.97 per digital download.


'This is Spinal Tape'. $7.99 from www.thinkgeek.com

10. ‘This is Spinal Tape’. $7.99 from www.thinkgeek.com


So you’ve done well; your gruesomely-wrapped gift is sitting in pride of place under your Christmas tree next to the cuddly toys for the kids and Grandma’s brand new slippers. But there is a question lingering in the back of your mind; can you bring yourself to give it away?! Everyone prefers gift vouchers anyway, right?

All photographs featured above are copyright of the noted designers and sellers. Check out their websites through the hyperlinks and images for more Christmas gift inspiration.

The Spooky Saturday Collection: October 2014

This October saw the start of Spooky Saturday on Facebook and Twitter; a collection of some the most gruesome anatomical artworks I’ve curated through the year.

In the lead up to Halloween, we looked a one piece in all it’s grisly glory each weekend and rated it on the ‘Spooky Scale’.

So, which is the winner? Let’s put it to a vote.

Take a look at the four artworks below and cast your vote in the poll!


 1. 'Dissection of a pharynx affected by abscess, shown at post-mortem' from 'Principles of Surgery' by John Bell, 1801.

1. ‘Dissection of a pharynx affected by abscess, shown at post-mortem’ from ‘Principles of Surgery’ by John Bell, 1801.



2. ‘Bone neoplasms on the skull’ from ‘Anatomie pathologique du corps humain’ by Jean Cruveilhier, 1829.



3. Illustration by Max Brödel which was featured in a 1932 article which described “surgical procedures on the eye of a rabbit, illustrating anatomical parts”.


'Head and skull of malformed infants; conjoined twins, bilateral cleft lip and holoprosencephaly' from 'Surgical Anatomy' by Joseph Maclise, 1856.

4.’Head and skull of malformed infants; conjoined twins, bilateral cleft lip and holoprosencephaly’ from ‘Surgical Anatomy’ by Joseph Maclise, 1856.


From Dissections to Death Masks: The Anatomical Museum, The University of Edinburgh

Photograph by Hugh Pastoll via www.anatomy.mvm.ed.ac.uk

Photograph by Hugh Pastoll via www.anatomy.mvm.ed.ac.uk

Last weekend I was finally able to satisfy my curiosity of what lay behind the 19
th century doors of The University of Edinburgh’s School of Medicine and Anatomical Museum.

Located on Teviot Place, The Anatomical Museum at the University has not long been open to the public. Now welcoming visitors through its grand gates on the last Saturday of every month, it instantly absorbs you into its stony walls of history and heritage. The museum, which opened as part of the new Medical School in 1884, was founded by the renowned Monro dynasty; 3 generations of Alexander Monro’s whose teaching spanned 126 years occupying the Chair of Anatomy at the University, one after the other through the 18th and 19th century. The grand lobby looms over you with two enormous elephant skeletons from either side. As an eager anatomist, your eyes don’t know where to settle first; the enormous jaw bones of a whale, the huge replica of Rembrandt’s ‘The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp’ or the many portraits and busts of famous anatomists from days gone by.

Dissection Theatre

Photograph by Hugh Pastoll via www.anatomy.mvm.ed.ac.uk

Photograph by Hugh Pastoll via www.anatomy.mvm.ed.ac.uk

As a former student of anatomy and as somebody who is fascinated by its teaching from days gone by, I was completely awestruck as I entered the dissection theatre which is still in use as a lecture theatre today. The beautiful rounded room is centred by a relatively small space that once was host to the magnificent spectical that medical students would flock to see; a human body. It’s tightly packed rows of seats are incredibly steep providing views of the cadaver to even those less-than-eager students in the back row. Sitting in one of the leather-like fold down chairs three quarters of the way to the back, I looked down upon the anatomical demonstration videos of Acland Anatomy that were projected onto the wall below. It was quite overwhelming to think that I was sitting in the very seats that would have looked upon the teaching of the famous Monro dynasty and the many cadavers that graced their dissection tables.

Death Masks

Photograph by Hugh Pastoll via www.anatomy.mvm.ed.ac.uk

Photograph by Hugh Pastoll via www.anatomy.mvm.ed.ac.uk

The museum has a fascinating collection of 40 life and death masks on display which eerily look out onto the museum and its curious visitors from the far wall that they occupy. Originally belonging to the Edinburgh Phrenological Society, the collection which is now owned by the William Ramsey Henderson Trust shows some well known faces from scientists and politicians to criminals and historical figures. To literally come face to face with pioneering Scottish anatomist and surgeon John Hunter and buyer of Burke and Hare’s bodies Robert Knox alongside notorious figures such as William Shakespeare and Julius Caesar is an experience that can only be personified by the true anatomical cast of the individual’s face.

Burke and Hare

Photograph by Hugh Pastoll via www.anatomy.mvm.ed.ac.uk

Photograph by Hugh Pastoll via www.anatomy.mvm.ed.ac.uk

The notorious Westport Murderers are well known historical characters in Edinburgh. Known across the world as the ruthless bodysnatchers who took the lives of at least 16 Edinburgh residents from 1827 to 1828 to capitalise from the high demand for cadavers in the the dissecting rooms of Edinburgh’s Medical School. Once their crimes were discovered and they were both detained, Hare was offered immunity from prosecution if he would confess and agree to testify against Burke. His testimony set him free and committed Burke to execution by hanging in Edinburgh on January 28, 1829. His body was dissected at The University of Edinburgh and his skeleton preserved, articulated and displayed. Now on view at the museum (minus the two phalanges from the 3rd toe on his right foot…), visitors can come face to face with this shady character from Edinburgh’s past, a vivid reminder of how far anatomy and its teaching have come since those dark days in the early 1800s.

To find out more about the Anatomical Museum, visit their website at www.anatomy.mvm.ed.ac.uk

Book Review: From Bodysnatchers to Lifesavers: Three Centuries of Medicine in Edinburgh by by Dorothy H. Crawford and Tara Womersley

From Bodysnatchers to Lifesavers: Three Centuries of Medicine in Edinburgh by Dorothy H. Crawford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t give 5 stars lightly, this book is fantastic! Those of you interested in the history of medicine know that the facts themselves are an interesting read, but the authors of this book wrote it in such a way that you really get to know the key figures from Edinburgh’s medical history and their fascinating careers. Don’t know Edinburgh? Don’t be put off. You will learn the history of some of the world most celebrated discoveries and professionals; from Charles Darwin to Arthur Conan Doyle, from bodysnatchers Burke and Hare to Dolly the Sheep. Reading this gripping book really made me proud, not only to live in a city steeped in such pioneering medical history, but to be working for a Royal College so involved in the advancement of medicine through the centuries to the present day.

View all my reviews


Hydrocephalus: Cerebrospinal Fluid and a Curious Condition

Prof. Jas. Mundie
Copyright: Prof Jas. Mundie

Although I have previously posted about hydrocephalus on the Facebook page’s ‘Fact of the Day’, I was inspired to discover more about this distinctive condition after a recent visit to Surgeon’s Hall Museum, Edinburgh. Full of fascinating pathological specimens, the congenital hydrocephalic infant skulls on display are hard to miss with their domed craniums, characteristic of bodies more alien than our own.

The term hydrocephalus comes from the Greek words ‘hydro’ meaning water  and ‘cephalus’ meaning head. Translated literally, it means ‘water on the brain’. Hydrocephalus is in fact a build up of cerebrospinal fluid within the brain.

10 Facts About Cerebrospinal Fluid

  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is a clear, colourless liquid that fills and surrounds the brain and the spinal cord, acting as a lubricator against bone and a shock absorber against trauma to our body’s most important system
  • It is formed primarily in the ventricles of the brain and circulates via a series of chambers
  • It helps to maintain a constant pressure within the cranium by decreasing in levels as the volume of blood or brain tissue increases and vice versa
  • When cerebrospinal fluid is in excess, it is moved away from the brain by absorption into the bloodstream by a specialised tissue called the arachnoid villi which act as a one way valve
  • It transports metabolic waste products, antibodies, chemicals, and products of disease away from the brain and spinal cord into the bloodstream
  • It has a slightly alkaline pH
  • It is about 99% water.
  • There are approximately 100-150ml of CSF in the average adult human body
  • It is produced continuously, and it is completely replaced every six to eight hours
  • Analysis of CSF can diagnose a number of diseases. Samples can be obtained by lumbar puncture or spinal tap by inserting a needle into the lumbar region of the lower back

Hydrocephalus can develop where there is a blockage in one of the ventricles, preventing excess CSF from moving out of the brain, where the arachnoid villi aren’t functioning properly and CSF is unable to filter into the blood vessels or, in some rare cases,  when the brain produces too much CSF.

Joakim BlockstromCopyright: Joakim Blockstrom

Congenital hydrocephalus can occur due to the restriction of flow of CSF caused by brain defects in the developing baby which can be due to certain health conditions like the most serious type of spina bifida. It can also occur in premature babies which experience bleeding in their brain, blocking the flow of CSF and causing hydrocephalus. Other potential causes include X-linked hydrocephalus where the condition occurs as a result of a genetic mutation, rare genetic disorders such as Dandy Walker malformation and arachnoid cysts between the brain or spinal cord and the arachnoid membrane.

Acquired hydrocephalus which develops in adults or children is most often occurs by injury or illness that results in a blockage between the ventricles of the brain. Possible causes include bleeding inside the brain, blood clots inside the blood vessels of the brain, meningitis, tumours, head trauma and stroke.

Anatomical abnormalities
The physical symptoms of hydrocephalus are distinctive, but can vary with age, tolerance and progression of the disease. The characteristic, unusually large cranium is caused by the infant skull’s ability to expand to accommodate the build up of excess CSF. The sutures of the skull, which are not yet closed, provide the flexibility in the cranium to ‘grow’ with the expanding volume. The scalp may be thin with visible veins and the fontanelle (soft spot on the top of a baby’s head) may be tense or bulging. The eyes can also appear to be looking downwards due to nerve damage which can affect the muscles of the eye.

skull-of-a-newbornCopyright: A.D.A.M

Without treatment, it is thought that up to 6 in 10 people with hydrocephalus would die. However, most children with hydrocephalus that survive past the age of one will have a fairly normal life span. Patients usually require prompt treatment to reduce the pressure on their brain either by neuroendoscopy or shunt surgery which involves implanting a thin tube into the brain to run the excess cerebrospinal fluid to another part of the body, usually the abdomen, where it can be absorbed into the blood stream.

hydroassoc.orgCopyright:  Hydrocephalus Association

Resources & further reading:


Virtual Autopsy: The Decline of Forensic Dissection?

severed spineThe body of a 50-year-old man run over by a train. Via The Guardian

Gone are the days of forensic autopsy whereby the only means for determining cause of death were by cutting into the cadaver of the victim. Swiss researchers at the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Zurich have developed a powerful and pioneering method of virtual imaging, never used in post mortem before; Virtopsy. Prof. Richard Dirnhofer initiated the Virtopsy project several years ago and now, along with operative head of the group Prof. Michael Thali, runs the applied research team which has been operating from the University in Switzerland since 2011.

Combining the uses of optical 3D surface scanning, 3D-photogrammetry, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance (MR) imaging, virtual autopsy is a technique that could not be further from traditional methods of the historical figures of medicine. Virtopsy allows the indefinite storage of collected images and data from the subject which can be re-examined, replicated and distributed at any time, allowing greater accessibility other experts in the field across disciplines and indeed locations. These techniques can be used in living patients to avoid invasive procedures, but the ground breaking aspects of Dirnhofer and Thali’s work lies in the forensic mortuary. Biological tissues, their decomposition and sometimes lack of reliability cannot compete with the ‘snapshot’ evidence taken by these methods, allowing findings to be shared in legal and court cases in a much more modern and interactive way.

The technology allows for the preservation of the deceased in a digital form, escaping the destruction of tissues caused during investigation and decomposition and allows access to areas of a cadaver which may not always prove accessible or appropriate to dissection. For example, the distribution of gas throughout the body is not often observed by the naked eye in traditional autopsy, but with this new technique, gaseous pockets and bubbles can be located quite clearly. It is also of great benefit to forensic autopsy when determining injury from attack by weapons. Scrolling through the layered depths of the victim allows for calculation of weapon length in stab wounds much easier than by traditional methods.

Understandably, virtual autopsy is warmly welcomed by certain religious communities and the families of the deceased who favour this non-invasive method. For the relatives, it allows peace of mind for the dignity and state bodies of their loved ones who have in most circumstances already been through a traumatising and unsettling ordeal.

Given that a deal of technological retraining would be required by investigators if virtual autopsy was rolled out and became a more common means of exploration, would this modern day approach favour the younger generation of forensic professionals? Will virtual autopsies replace traditional forensic examination over time? It is a welcome addition complementary to current investigation, but should we rely completely on such detached methods? Can anything substitute real, hands on exploration of the human body, no matter how advanced the technology and results may be?

Further reading:

Tabulae Anatomicae: The Lost Plates of Italy’s Eustachi

Eustachi_title crop
Title plate, Tabulae Anatomicae, Bartolomeo Eustachi.

Considered the most meticulous and thorough anatomist of his time, physician and anatomist Bartolomeo Eustachi (d.1574) not only had a career embellished with anatomical discoveries and pioneering practices, but was author to one of the discipline’s most influential texts; Tabulae Anatomicae.

Thought to have studied medicine in Rome and Padua, Italy, Eustachi served as physician to the Duke of Urbino and Cadinal Giulio Della Rovere in Rome where, as a lecturer in anatomy, he is said to have introduced the practice of hospital post-mortem examinations.  He is credited with many significant findings of the human body including the discovery of the thoracic duct and adrenal glands as well as providing the first accurate descriptions of the uterus, laryngeal muscles and origin of the optic nerve. Perhaps most famously, he is celebrated for the discovery of the passage linking the middle ear to the nasopharynx; the Eustachian tube.

Ear diagramCopyright: Tangient LLC

Eustachi published Opuscula Anatomica in 1564 which featured eight anatomical plates, mainly detailing the kidneys and vascular system. There were an additional thirty eight copperplates that he had prepared with illustrator Pietro Matteo Pini and engraver Giulio de’ Musi which went unused up until Eustachi’s death in 1574. These remaining plates were forgotten until they were discovered in the Vatican Library by the Pope’s physicist Giovanni Maria Lancisi who published the plates in 1714 under the title Tabulae Anatomicae (Anatomical Tables). It illustrated the human body in a way that had rarely been seen before. The use of copper-plates provided greater detail and precision than the wooden-plates of previous works such as Versalius’ De Humunai Corporis Fabrica, 1543 could produce. Omitting the numbered and lettered labelling which were the favoured annotation methods of the time, Eustachi had used an inventive coordinate system created by rulers that bordered his images. He had pioneered an uncluttered and clear representation of the human form which, coupled with immaculate hand colouring, created the most vivid, vibrant and rousing anatomical illustrations up unto their time.