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John Foster

What’s Inside?


These bodies of ours — these flesh and blood carriers of the soul that give outward identity to who we are, have been the subject of curiosity since man has been able to conjure basic rational thought. It is certain prehistoric man had peered into and inside the torn or bludgeoned remains of a dead enemy, or the unfortunate hunter found eviscerated by an animal predator. What were they to make of it? Did they wonder where the life force was, or where it had gone? Was Prehistoric man horrified by the sight of a human corpse, or did they treat it with curiosity and care?

Most of us remember the first dead animal we ever saw — mine was a rabbit, killed by a car near my house. I touched it with a stick, moved its legs, and opened its mouth. While the earliest recorded human dissection took place in ancient Greece in the third century B.C. — the development of real, scientific knowledge of the human body has been excruciatingly slow. Not until the twentieth century did science and medicine finally begin to accelerate to magnificent heights. And now, at the dawn of the 21st century, we begin a new quest to map the human brain. The following anatomical images are visual examples of our long quest to understand what is inside the human body.


What's Inside Us
Human skeleton, 1732: This document is thought to have inspired physician Tōyō Yamawaki to conduct Japan's first recorded human dissection.

What's Inside Us
Illustration from 1759 edition of Zōzu: The actual carving was done by a hired assistant, as it was still considered taboo for certain classes of people to handle human remains.

What's Inside Us
Kaishihen (Dissection Notes), 1772: Japan's fifth human dissection — and the first to examine the human brain — was documented in a 1772 book by Shinnin Kawaguchi, entitled Kaishihen (Dissection Notes). The dissection was performed in 1770 on two cadavers and a head received from an execution ground in Kyōto.

What's Inside Us
Kaishihen (Dissection Notes), 1772.

What's Inside Us
Human anatomy (date unknown): This anatomical illustration is from the book Kanshin Biyō, by Bunken Kagami.

What's Inside Us
Human anatomy (date unknown): In this image, a sheet of transparent paper showing the outline of the body is placed over the anatomical illustration.

What's Inside Us
Seyakuin Kainan Taizōzu (circa 1798): These illustrations are from the book entitled Seyakuin Kainan Taizōzu, which documents the dissection of a 34-year-old criminal executed in 1798. The dissection team included the physicians Kanzen Mikumo, Ranshū Yoshimura, and Genshun Koishi.

What's Inside Us
Seyakuin Kainan Taizōzu (circa 1798)

What's Inside Us
Zoku Yōka Hiroku (Sequel to Confidential Notes on the Treatment of Skin Growths), 1859. [Source: Nihon Iryō Bunkashi (History of Japanese Medical Culture), Shibunkaku Publishing, 1989.

What's Inside Us
Zoku Yōka Hiroku (Sequel to Confidential Notes on the Treatment of Skin Growths), 1859.

What's Inside Us
Anatomy dissection class, circa 1880.

What's Inside Us
Anatomy of a centaur: Double lungs and the presumably also double stomach gives an explanation for the strength and perseverance of centaurs.

What's Inside Us
Full wax figure of female figure, 18th century.

What's Inside Us
Photo of models from the Paris Museum of Natural History in the 1880s.

What's Inside Us
18th century wax model dissection from Florence, Italy’s La Specola Museum.

What's Inside Us
Anatomy drawing from William Rimmer's Artistic Anatomy, 1877.

What's Inside Us
Wax anatomical models at La Specola in Florence, Italy.

What's Inside Us
Wax models of human hand at La Specola in Florence, Italy.

What's Inside Us
Human skeleton for comparison with that of birds. Pierre Belon, Nature des Oyseaux (The Nature of Birds), Paris 1555.

What's Inside Us
Anatomical drawing of a co-joined twin. Fortunio Liceti, De monstris, Amsterdam 1665.

What's Inside Us
This anatomical sketch of Godzilla reveals a relatively small brain, giant lungs that allow underwater breathing, leg muscles that can support 20,000 tons of body weight, and a “uranium sack” and “nuclear reaction sack” that produce radioactive fire-breath and energize the body.

What's Inside Us
The Kuro-kamikiri (“black hair cutter”) is a large, black-haired creature that sneaks up on women in the street at night and surreptitiously cuts off their hair. Anatomical features include a brain wired for stealth and trickery, razor-sharp claws, a long, coiling tongue covered in tiny hair-grabbing spines, and a sac for storing sleeping powder used to knock out victims. The digestive system includes an organ that produces a hair-dissolving fluid, as well as an organ with finger-like projections that thump the sides of the intestines to aid digestion.

What's Inside Us
Anatomy of a Gummi bear, illustration by Jason Freeny.

Accidental Mysteries is an online curiosity shop of extraordinary things, mined from the depths of the online world and brought to you each week by John Foster, a writer, designer and longtime collector of self-taught art and vernacular photography. “I enjoy the search for incredible, obscure objects that challenge, delight and amuse my eye. More so, I enjoy sharing these discoveries with the diverse and informed readers of Design Observer.”

Editor's Note: All images are copyright of their original owners.


Posted in: Accidental Mysteries, Art, Illustration

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