Hiding in Plain Sight-ancient Chinese anatomy
Sep 1, 2020
For thousands of years, scientists have studied human anatomy by dissecting bodies. Our knowledge of their findings is limited, however, both by the subsequent loss of many of the oldest texts, and by a tendency toward a Eurocentric perspective in medicine. As a discipline, anatomy tends to be much more familiar with ancient Greek texts than with those from India, China, or Persia. Here, we show that the Mawangdui medical texts, entombed in the Mawangdui burial site in Changsha, China 168 BCE, are the oldest surviving anatomical atlas in the world. These medical texts both predate and inform the later acupuncture texts which have been the foundation for acupuncture practice in the subsequent two millennia. The skills necessary to interpret them are diverse, requiring the researcher firstly to read the original Chinese, and secondly to perform the anatomical investigations that allow a reviewing of the structures that the texts refer to. Acupuncture meridians are considered to be esoteric in nature, but these texts are clearly descriptions of the physical body. As such, they represent a previously hidden chapter in the history of anatomy, and a new perspective on acupuncture.