Andreas Vesalius

Referred to by many as the founder of modern anatomy, Vesalius was born in Brussels, studied medicine in Paris, and finally settled in Italy as the Chair of Surgery and Anatomy at the University of Padua, which he earned the first day of receiving his medical doctorate from the University.  He published his famous works on human anatomy, On the Fabric of the Human Body,  a collection of seven books presenting a modern anatomical view of the complete human body, rife with many detailed drawings of the human body.

Vesalius was so influential because he was able to correct the errors of earlier anatomists due to his direct observation of the body through the dissection of executed criminals.  The detailed illustrations were drawn by artists present at the dissections and provided a valuable resource for medical students to reference.  The improved printing technology of the Renaissance helped preserve and distribute these drawings.

Later in life, Vesalius joined Charles V court as a doctor, leaving his post in Padua.  After serving a little more than a decade in the imperial court Vesalius embarked on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where on his return he was shipwrecked on an island and soon died.  He was 50 years old at the time of his death but his influence on anatomy would be permanent.

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1450: The Printing Press

A vital precursor to the scientific revolution, the invention of the printing press changed the way information spread across the world by improving its fidelity and, most importantly, by hastening its rate of reproduction.  An increasing numbers of books with better accuracy quickly spread across Europe and the globe providing the medium for a diffusion of ideas to a growing literate population.

The printing press was the creation of Johannes Gutenberg, whose creative insight was to combine movable type with a pressing mechanism to create the Gutenberg press.  Simple, yet revolutionary.  In order to print a page you first line up the metal type, apply ink, place the paper on top then apply the press.

The printing press allowed for the mass reproduction of printed material.  Within a few decades hundreds of presses were active in hundreds of cities around Europe, and this basic method of mass production of printing did not change much until the late 18th century.



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900: Gunpowder

Gunpowder was invented in China and spread to the Middle East, eventually arriving in Europe around 1300, nearly 400 years after its invention.  Its impact in warfare was substantial and almost immediately felt on the battlefield through infantry weapons, having a devastating effect on the knightly class. Although this was a setback for the nobility they still had their walled castles.

Artillery weapons powered by gunpowder, initially unreliable but once perfected, made once impenetrable castles vulnerable.  Sieging a castle in the Middle Ages was a long and arduous process.  Techniques involved tunneling under walls, ramming down walls, starving out the inhabitants, all of which could take weeks or even months.  However with the invention of cannons a castle could be taken within a single day.

Gunpowder consists of a mixture of saltpeter (potassium nitrate), charcoal, and sulfur.  The sulfur and charcoal act as the fuel, with saltpeter acting as an additional oxidizer creating a stable chemical reaction with the rapidly expanding gases resulting in the propelling motion.

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800 BCE – 200 BCE: Gears

An important technology in allowing people do to work was the invention of the gear, a system consisting of cogs that takes energy from an input source, such as flowing water, and convert it to an output source, such as a pump.  The oldest archeological evidence for gears dates to about 230 BCE in China, however evidence of geared technology before that time is referenced from ancient manuscripts.

There are various different types of gears such as spur gears, bevel gears and worm gears, with each type providing a unique set of advantages and disadvantages.  For example bevel gears change the axis of rotation (such as from horizontal to vertical) and spur gears may change the speed of force of motion.

The earliest gears were uses in wheels and pulling systems and its uses have since expanded dramatically.  Clocks, vehicles, and a multitude of machines would not be able to operate with out properly working gears.

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Probably no other ancient thinker held a greater influence over medieval European intellectual life more than Aristotle.  It’s easy to see why, giving his prolific writings and interests in a wide range of topics that include physics, cosmology, biology, zoology, geology, psychology, mathematics, logic, metaphysics, politics, ethics, justice, and rhetoric – to name a few.  Over 150 books are attested to be authored by Aristotle, although only 30 or so of his works survive to the modern day.

Aristotle was born in Stageria, Macedon, was orphaned at an early age and raised by his uncle.  At age 17 he went to Athens and joined Plato’s Academy where he spent 20 years studying and earning his reputation as one of Greek’s great philosophers.  After his time at The Academy he ended up in King Philip of Macedon’s court, where he tutored his 13 year old son, Alexander, who grew up to be Alexander The Great.

When Aristotle did not receive headship of the Academy in Athens due to political reasons, he started his own establishment around 335 BCE with encouragement from Alexander called The Lyceum.  It is during his time at The Lyceum where he composed most of his works.  Aristotle was forced to leave The Lyceum and Athens again due to political reasons after Alexanders death.  He died shortly after by natural causes.


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One of the most famous mathematicians of the ancient world was Pythagoras of Samos (that town has now been renamed Pythagorion in his honor), born around 569 BCE.  Much mystery surrounds the early life of Pythagoras and it is sometimes difficults to separate fact from legend.  It is believe that around the age of nine, Pythagoras may have traveled to Miletos and was taught by the famous Greek philosopher Thale
s and his pupil Anaximander.  Later on, around 535 BCE it is likely that he traveled to Egypt and Babylon where he was taught geometrical principles that laid the foundation for his theorems.

In about 518 BCE Pythagoras settled in Cronton, a Greek seaport in southern Italy, where he founded a school dedicated to studying mathematics.

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3000 BCE – 600 BCE: Early Medicine and the Hippocratic Oath

The earliest forms of prehistoric medicines (before the written word) were probably various herbs used by shamans or medicine men to heal the diseased person.  Fire was also likely used for sterilizing and closing wounds.

The earliest known medical texts date from China and Egypt from around 2000 BCE, focusing on techniques such as meditation and acupuncture. Babylonian texts suggest of a person who practiced surgery as far back as 4000 BCE.

In the 8th century BCE the first Greek medical school opened at Cnidus.  The Greeks placed a strong emphasis on diet, lifestyle, and hygiene, continuing the tradition of the Egyptians and Indians.  It was about 300 years later that Hippocrates of Kos was born.  Hippocrates founded the famous Hippocratic School of Medicine and is largely referred to as the Father of Medicine and is credited with forming the Hippocratic Oath – a guiding set of duties that is widely taken by physicians to this day.

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3500 BCE: The Wheel

Although we think of the wheel as a transportation device, it was originally used by ancient Mesopotamian potters as far back as 3500 BCE, and possible earlier.  It took another 300 or so years for the idea to be extended to transportation in Mesopotamian chariots.

The wheel has played a significant part in shaping history and had a variety of early uses and forms including the potters wheel, being used in watermill turbines, transportation, plowing for agriculture, and function as a cogwheel for gears.

The wheel has evolved over time becoming thinner and stronger, developing into different types such as crossbar and spoked wheels, while adding features such as hardened rims and pivoting axles.

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5500 BCE – 5000 BCE: Metallurgy

The importance of metallurgy on human culture is so important that scholars typically divide ancient by metalworking ages such as the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Age.  Metallurgy provided usages and advancements in the production of weapons and armor, tools, utensils, and pottery.

Originally metals were valued for their natural beauty, but eventually it was found that they could be molded into different forms for a variety of uses.  The earliest evidence for smelting, which is the process of extracting an metal by heating an ore, is found in the Balkans and Western Asia around 7500 years ago.

Eventually metals were mixed together to create alloys which provided for strengthened materials.

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1.5 Million – 400,000 Years Ago: Fire Power

At some point in history there had to be one initial crucial step that separated humans from the other animals in our journey to becoming the dominant species on this planet.  I will call that point the beginning of science and label it by humans ability to control fire.

Sometime in our ancestor’s very ancient past, and certainly by 400,000 years ago, fire came under human control.  Fire was beneficial for a variety of novel reasons including providing protection from predators, warmth allowing for people to live in colder regions, tool making, ceremonial usage, the ability to see at night time, and the ability to cook food.

Cooking food may have been a significant step in leading humans to the top of the food chain and even to increasing brain size, although hominid brain size was increasing before cooked food became common in early humans.  In any case, what is indisputable is that cooking food killed the parasites that infested food, allowing for easier digestion.  This enabled humans to make due with smaller teeth and shorter intestines.  It is hypothesized that a smaller intestine was the factor in allowing for a larger, jumbo brain of sapiens and Neanderthals, since both the brain and the digestive tract are two are the largest energy consuming organ systems in the body.  By shortening the digestive tract it enabled the energy economy of the body to devote more resources to a jumbo human brain.

The campsite is also believed to have functioned as a “nest” for our ancestors and therefore played a pivotal role in the evolution of our sociability.  All animals that exhibit sociability have a nest, which allow for a common place for the species to gather and stay at.

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