An Untold Story: the Important Contributions of Muslim Scholars for the Understanding of Human Anatomy

Jan 1, 2017

It is usually assumed that Galen is one of the fathers of anatomy and that between the Corpus Galenicum and the Renaissance there was no major advance in anatomical knowledge. However, it is also consensually accepted that Muslim scholars had the intellectual leadership from the 8th/9th to 13th centuries, and that they made remarkable progresses in numerous scientific fields including medicine. So, how is it possible that they did not contribute to advance human anatomy during that period? According to the dominant view Muslim scholars exclusively had a passive role: their transmission of knowledge from the Greeks to the West. Here we summarize, for the first time in a single paper, the studies of major Muslim scholars that published on human anatomy before Vesalius. This summary is based on analyses of original Arabic texts and of more recent publications by anatomists and historians, and on comparisons between the descriptions provided by Galen and by these Muslim scholars. We show that Arabic speakers and Persians made important advances in human anatomy well before Vesalius. The most notable exception concerns the muscular system: strikingly, there were apparently no advances made by Muslims nor by Westerners for more than 1000 years. Unbiased discussions of these and other related issues, and particularly of the mainly untold story about the major contributions of Muslim scholars to anatomy, are crucial to our knowledge of the history of anatomy, biology and sciences, and also of our way of thinking, biases and prejudices. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.