General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 19 Oct 2017/12 House
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Human body form with calendar sign associations, Codex Vaticanus A/Ríos, folio 54r

Advanced Aztec Medicine (1): Anatomical knowledge

This is the first in a series of entries based on information in the Encyclopedia of American Indian Contributions to the World by Emory Dean Keoke and Kay Marie Porterfield (Facts on File, 2002) (Compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Aztec stone sculpture of a human heart, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Aztec stone sculpture of a human heart, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

‘Anatomical knowledge, the understanding of the structure and function of the parts of the human body, is the foundation of medical practice... The Aztec... were so expert in medicine compared to European physicians that reportedly the Spanish conquistadores preferred to seek help from them instead of barber-surgeons who accompanied the Spaniards to the New World.
’Aztec physicians understood the workings of the heart and circulatory system long before Europeans possessed such knowledge. They were familiar with the main details of the internal parts of the heart as well.. (Historians generally credit William Harvey, an Englishman who lived between 1578 and 1657, with putting forth the first theory describing the circulatory system.) The Aztec language, Nahuatl, even contained a word to describe the throbbing of the heart: tetecuicaliztli.

‘The Aztec not only developed sophisticated anatomical terminology but also classified the parts of the human body, organising them into systems. In this book Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World, anthropologist Jack Weatherford states: “The Nahuatl-speaking doctors developed an extensive vocabulary that identified virtually all of the organs that the science of anatomy recognises today.”’

Picture sources:-
• Main pic: Human body form with calendar sign associations, Codex Vaticanus A/Ríos, folio 54r - image scanned from our own copy of the ADEVA facsimile edition, Graz, Austria, 1979
• Heart sculpture: photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Oct 02nd 2017

‘The Heart’ exhibition, Wellcome Trust

Aztec Concepts of the Human Body (1)

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