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History of Comparative Anatomy

  1. Christopher E Cosans1,
  2. Michael Frampton2

Published Online: 15 DEC 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003085



How to Cite

Cosans, C. E. and Frampton, M. 2009. History of Comparative Anatomy. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. 1

    Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA

  2. 2

    Midwest Medical Center, Valparaiso, Indiana, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 DEC 2009

This is not the most recent version of the article. View current version (16 MAR 2015)


Comparative anatomy was first developed by Greek natural philosophers and physicians. It has had a rich interplay with Western culture since that time until the present. Our understanding of how the anatomy of plants and animals varies reflects the view we have of nature and the world. Comparative anatomy can be traced back to the ancient Greeks who made scattered anatomical observations. Aristotle, the student of Plato, made the first systematic dissections. Researchers made more detailed anatomical observations throughout antiquity, while thinkers of the Middle Ages incorporated anatomical ideas within a deeply religious culture. The Renaissance began around 1400 as an interest in early texts, including those on comparative anatomy, increased. The knowledge from ancient texts, fed by the advent of printing, led to the Scientific Revolution. Since the turn of the nineteenth century, much discussion of comparative anatomy has focused on the theory of evolution.

Key Concepts

  • Animal: A major kind of life form that has been distinguished from plants by virtue of possessing a sensorimotor system that gives it an ability to move around.

  • Antiquity: In classical western European history, the time period from about 800 bc to ad 450 when the oldest approaches to thought emerged and the oldest texts, mostly in Greek and Latin, were written.

  • Classification: The procedure of comparing different living things and assigning them to abstract groups such as species and genera according to specific anatomical or behavioural criteria.

  • Dissection: The procedure of intentionally cutting open a dead plant or animal in order to discern how its parts are interconnected and organized.

  • Evolution: The process by which one species changes into other species during long periods of time.

  • History: The process by which the ideas, beliefs, language, cultural practices and institutions of a people change over time, often in response to events, social interactions and technological inventions.

  • Middle Ages: The historical period from about ad 450 to 1400 which saw the rise and dominance of Christian religion and culture within the boundaries of the classical Roman Empire.

  • Nature: Those aspects of the world and the cosmos that exist independent of human institutions and technological contrivances, including such things as the developmental processes of plants and animal and the way bodies are.

  • Renaissance: The historical period in Western civilization that succeeds the Middle Ages and precedes the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century, in which there is an intense desire to retrieve ancient Greco-Roman knowledge and learning, which was accelerated by printing, the publication of books and the influx of Greek scholars after Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire in ad

  • Scientific change: The process by which scientific accounts are modified as investigators consider new texts, ideas, observations and experimental methods.


  • anatomy;
  • classification;
  • dissection;
  • evolution;
  • history;
  • Aristotle