Ancient Egypt, Africa (3100 - 30 BCE)
Copy of an Egyptian bas-relief, Europe, 1801-1930
The copy of the stone bas-relief shows a male circumcision in process, an operation common in ancient Egypt and practised from c. 2000 BCE. Circumcision is an ancient surgical procedure often carried out as part of religious or cultural beliefs. Occasionally, there are also medical reasons for the operation.
Jackal-headed canopic jar, Egypt, 2000 BCE-100 CE
During the process of mummification in ancient Egypt, the intestines, stomach, lungs and liver were removed from the body. Each organ was placed in one of four carved limestone canopic jars, each with a different shaped head. These represented four Egyptian gods – the Sons of Horus who each looked after a different body part. Jackal-headed lid...
Bronze statue of Imhotep, Egypt, 600-30 BCE
Imhotep (active sometime during c. 2700-2601 BCE) was the legendary architect of the step pyramids at Sakkarah, Egypt. He later achieved the status of a god and was patron of medical learning and healing. Imhotep became identified with the Greek god Asklepios. Imhotep’s Greek name was Imouthes. He is often shown in this pose with a shaven head ...
Egyptian mummy, 343-69 BCE
Mummification was a complicated burial process common in ancient Egypt. First the internal organs were removed, apart from the heart, which was considered to be the seat of the mind and the emotions. The lungs, liver, intestines and stomach were placed in separate canopic jars, to be buried with the body. The body was then dried with natron for...
Herodotus visits Egypt
Greek historian Herodotus visits Egypt and describes their medicinal practices
Egyptian surgical papyrus
Egyptian papyrus describing a large variety of surgical procedures, thought to have been developed from earlier works
Invention of writing
Writing invented in Mesopotamia and Egypt
Imhotep (c. 2667-2648 BCE)
Imhotep was an Egyptian architect and priest who is thought to have died around 2648 BCE. Imhotep was chief architect to the Egyptian pharaoh and was responsible for the Step Pyramid. During his lifetime he was often represented as a priest and was considered a man of great learning. He does not seem to have practised as a doctor during hi...
Greek Civilisation, South-east Europe (1100-168 BCE)
Marble statue of Asklepios, Greek, 400-200 BCE
Asklepios was a Greco-Roman god who was associated with healing and medicine. It was believed he cured the sick while they slept in a temple dedicated to him. This is known as incubation. In mythology, Asklepios was also said to be able to resurrect the dead. The statue was purchased in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1931.
Bronze cupping cup, ancient Greece, 400-100 BCE
Cupping is the practice of placing heated cups or vessels like this on the body. It is believed to draw out any impurities and bring blood to the surface of the skin. This is known as dry cupping. Wet cupping is when the welts left on the body are cut to let blood flow out. It was believed that this would re-balance the humours and restore a pe...
The cult of Asklepios, the Greek god of healing begins, and spreads throughout Roman Empire
Birth of Eristratus, Greek anatomist who is believed to have founded the medical school at Alexandria with his mentor, Herophilus
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great begins campaign which will see him conquer Egypt, the Middle East and Western India, leading to spread of Greek knowledge
Birth of Herophilus, Greek physician and early anatomist. He is believed to have founded the medical school at Alexandria
Birth of Aristotle, Greek philosopher, biologist and comparative anatomist. Died in 322 BC
Plague in Athens
Plague outbreak in in Athens until 425 BC. An account of the epidemic is written by Thucydides
Hippocrates (c. 460 - c. 370 BCE)
Hippocrates was a Greek philosopher and physician who has been called ‘the father of medicine’. He and his followers dismissed the idea that illness was simply caused or cured by superstitions, spirits or gods. Instead, he argued for a rational approach to medical treatment based on close observation of the individual patient. However, so litt...
Early Modern Age, Europe (1650-1800)
Lancet owned by Edward Jenner, England, 1720-1800
Vaccination has saved countless lives, but has always been the subject of fierce debate. Why this, rather than another medical procedure? Historically there have been arguments about its safety and clinical worth, and large-scale protest against compulsory vaccination. But there are deeper issues at work too – about the body and belief. At lea...
Bronze plaque, Italy, 1655-1667
This plaque was commissioned by Pope Alexander VII (1599-1655) to celebrate the disappearance of plague from Rome. Cast in bronze, the inscription is written in Latin.
Musschenbroek hand microscope, Netherlands, 1671-1700
The mark of an oriental lamp and crossed keys at the base of the microscope shows that this item was made by Johann Musschenbroek, a famous scientific instrument maker from the Netherlands. This low-power microscope was designed to help dissection. A lens is mounted at the base of the eye cup and an object pin is attached to an adjustable arm w...
Iron model of the joints in a human skeleton, Italy, 1570-1700
The iron model showing the joints of a skeleton is very similar to the illustration in Fabricius’s Opera Chirurgica, his ‘Surgical Works’, first published in 1582. The model was possibly used to teach pupils about limb articulation as well as limb dislocation, injuries to limb joints and their subsequent treatment. Hieronymus Fabricius ab Aqu...
Copy of a fumigating torch (1600s), Europe
Fumigating torches were used in the 1600s to protect the carrier from bubonic plague. Sweet smelling herbs burnt in the top of the torch were thought to protect against disease. Both the buboes caused by the disease and the breath of the dying smelt foul and it was thought that disease was spread by rancid smells. Plague seemed to spread quickl...
Dutch artisans create microscopes, by arranging lenses to greatly magnify objects
Boerhaave's 'Institutiones Medicinae'
Publication of Herman Boerhaave's 'Institutiones Medicinae', one of the earliest textbooks of physiology
Inoculation in England
Lady Mary Wortley brings Turkish practice of smallpox inoculation to England
Company of Surgeons
The Company of Surgeons splits from the Barbers in London
Citrus fruits shown to cure scurvy
James Lind discovers that citrus fruits can cure scurvy, a common aliment on long sea voyages, or prevent its outbreak. His work is influential in improving conditions in British Navy
School for the deaf in France
Charles Michel Abbe de l' Epee develops signed language and establishes first free school for the deaf in Paris
New treatments for mental illnesses
More humane treatments for the mentally ill introduced in Paris, based on work of Phillipe Pinel
Edward Jenner (1749-1823)
Edward Jenner was an English country doctor who introduced the vaccine for smallpox. Previously a keen practitioner of smallpox inoculation, Jenner took the principle a stage further by inducing immunity against this killer disease via exposure to a harmless related disease, cowpox. His technique provided safer and more reliable p...
Herman Boerhaave (1668-1738)
The Dutch physician Herman Boerhaave was one of the most influential medical scientists and teachers of the early modern period. He introduced bedside, or clinical, teaching for medical students and argued that medicine should be based on a sound knowledge of the physical sciences and mathematics. Though not the first person to teach a...
John Hunter (1728-93)
Born into a large family based near Glasgow, John Hunter went to London in 1748 to work with his brother William (1718-83), a successful obstetrician and physician. He showed an aptitude for anatomical work and also for securing a supply of corpses for dissection; he was probably present at the dissection of more than two thousand human bodies...
Laura Bassi (1711-78)
Laura Bassi was an Italian scientist and the first woman professor to be appointed at a European university. She was born in Bologna in 1711. Her father, a wealthy lawyer, decided she should be fully educated at home, and she was tutored for seven years. Bassi developed an interest in science, and was encouraged by her family and friends, i...
Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843)
Samuel Hahnemann was a German physician who established a new system of medical treatment call homeopathy. He spoke many languages and supported himself as a translator while studying medicine, graduating in 1779.Hahnemann became convinced that many medical treatments such as bloodletting did more harm than good, and looked for gentler ways to...
Industrial Age, World (1750-1900)
Face mask for chloroform anaesthesia, England, 1848-1870
The design of the face mask has been attributed to Francis Sibson (1814-76) and early examples were made of sheet lead. This example is made from brass and lined with felt. It would have been used by patients to inhale vapours of chloroform to enter a state of unconsciousness before surgery. It is shown here with John Snow’s chloroform inhaler ...
Snow-type chloroform inhaler, London, England, 1848-1870
John Snow (1813-58) was the first specialist anaesthetist in Britain. He originally described his inhaler in 1847. The profile of both Snow and anaesthesia received a big boost when Queen Victoria was given chloroform during the birth of her son Leopold in 1853. The anaesthetist on that occasion was John Snow. In this inhaler, one canister was...
Carbolic steam spray used by Joseph Lister, England, 1866-1870
Imagine you’re working in a large hospital in 1867. A new doctor has just arrived and he’s come to see the first carbolic steam spray in action. He’s never seen it in an operating theatre before. What would you tell him about the principles of using carbolic in surgery? It’s your job to operate the spray while both you and the new doctor watc...
Glass flask used by Louis Pasteur, France, 1860-1864
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), the French chemist and microbiologist, used a glass flask containing yeast water during his experiments on spontaneous generation. By 1864, Pasteur had disproved this theory by experimenting with fermentation. He placed yeast water in a swan-necked flask (like this one) that only allowed air to enter. The water remain...
Joseph Jackson Lister's microscope, London, England, 1826
How can you be sure that what you see through a microscope is real? Imagine you’re looking through the microscope and you see a cell with a coloured edge. Is this edge really there, or is it an artificial effect produced by flaws in the microscope? Early microscopists had to check their findings many times because it was very difficult to mak...
Laennec's stethoscope, France, 1815-1825
As a medical practitioner, how can you find out about what is going on inside a patient's body? Especially when many causes and symptoms of disease are not immediately obvious. For a long time you would have had to be content simply to observe any outward signs of disease, such as skin colouration or pulse, or to investigate excretions of the p...
Iron mortsafe, United Kingdom, 1801-1822
Bodies for dissection were in short supply in the early 1800s as only executed criminals could be dissected legally. In the United Kingdom, body-snatchers – also known as ‘resurrectionists’ – robbed the graves of the newly deceased, often in the middle of the night, and then sold the corpses on to anatomists. Those that could afford them migh...
Jenner develops smallpox vaccination
Edward Jenner develops a smallpox vaccination method, experimenting on James Phipps. He publishes his findings in 1798
Nitrous oxide first used by Sir Humphry Davy
Royal College of Surgeons foundered
Royal College of Surgeons of England founded as successor to Company of Surgeons
Samuel Hahnemann publishes first work on homoeopathy, raised on the idea of ' like cures like'
Laennec invents stethoscope
French physician Rene Laennec invented the stethoscope, which allows doctors to listen to changes in the patient's heart and breathing
British obstetrician James Blundell performs the first human to human blood transfusion
Louis Braille invents the raised point alphabet that has come to be known as Braille
English Anatomy Act
Anatomy Act passed in England. From this time, the unclaimed bodies of dead in hospitals and workhouses are made available to medical schools for dissection
William Morton, an American dentist makes first public demonstration of ether as an anaesthetic
Chadwick's 'Report on sanitary conditions'
Edwin Chadwick's 'Report on sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain' is published and leads to changes in public health legislation
Childbed fever prevented
Ignaz Semmelweis discovers how to prevent puerperal or childbed fever, a blood infection passed to women during childbirth, by having doctors wash their hands. The fever killed one-third of mothers in some hospitals of the time
Chloroform used for child-birth
James Young Simpson experiments with chloroform, and begins its use as an anasesthetic during child-birth
Source of cholera outbreak in London identfiied by John Snow
John Snow identifies source of cholera outbreak in London and removes Broad Street water pump handle, confirming that the disease is spread through the water supply
First edition of 'Gray's Anatomy', anatomical textbook by Henry Gray
Nightingale Nursing School
Foundation of the Nightingale Nursing School at St Thomas's Hospital, London
Pasteur's germ theory
Louis Pasteur proposes the germ theory of disease, which transforms the way diseases are treated. This work is later developed by Robert Koch
International Red Cross
Foundation of the International Red Cross (now the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies)
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson graduates as Britain's first female doctor
Carbolic steam spray
Joseph Lister describes using carbolic acid to control infection during surgery. This method of killing germs was called antisepsis
Elizabeth Garret-Anderson sets up the New Hospital for Women at the St Mary’s Dispensary, later the London School of Medicine for Women. She appoints Elizabeth Blackwell as Professor of gynaecology
Louis Pasteur suggests placing instruments in boiling water to sterilize them
Julius Robert Petri invents the Petri dish, allowing scientists to grow bacteria in controlled conditions
Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovers usefulness of X-rays for medical imaging
Marie and Pierre Curie discover radium and polonium radioactive isotopes
Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910)
Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman doctor to graduate in the United States. She was a pioneer in women’s medical education and a campaigner for women’s rights. She was born in 1821 in Bristol, England, into a large and devout Quaker family. Her father Samuel Blackwell, a sugar refiner, believed in female education and was an active campai...
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917)
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first female doctor to qualify in England. She opened a school of medicine for women, and paved the way for women’s medical education in Britain. She was born in Whitechapel, London, the daughter of a pawnbroker with 12 children. She was given a good education and decided to become a doctor after meeting Dr E...
Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)
Florence Nightingale is one of the best-known women in Victorian medicine. She was born in Florence, Italy, in 1820 and brought up in England. Although she is best remembered for her work during the Crimean War (1853-56), Nightingale fundamentally changed the role of nursing in hospitals, and was a key figure in introducing new professional...
Ignaz Semmelweis (1818-65)
Ignaz Semmelweis was a Hungarian physician whose work demonstrated that hand-washing could drastically reduce the number of women dying after childbirth. This work took place in the 1840s, while he was Director of the maternity clinic at the Vienna General Hospital in Austria. We all now know how important it is to wash our hands. In hospi...
James Barry (1792 or 1795-1865)
Barry was a successful British Army surgeon who served in India and Cape Town, South Africa, and eventually rose to the rank of Inspector General in charge of military hospitals. Despite reportedly having a sometimes difficult personality, James Barry was known for his commitment to improving conditions for soldiers and the local population.So...
John Snow (1813-58)
John Snow was a leading British physician of the Victorian period. He is also considered one of the founders of modern epidemiology for his work in identifying the source of a cholera outbreak in 1854. This study suggested a means of disease transmission that clearly contradicted the prevailing miasma theory. Although overlooked at the time, h...
Joseph Lister (1827-1912)
Joseph Lister is the surgeon who introduced new principles of cleanliness which transformed surgical practice in the late 1800s. We take it for granted that a surgeon will guard a patient's safety by using aseptic methods. But this was not always the case, and until Lister introduced sterile surgery, a patient could undergo a procedure...
Louis Pasteur (1822-95)
The French chemist Louis Pasteur developed germ theory, which became central to our understanding of disease. Using experiments and microscopes, Pasteur found that liquids such as beer and milk went off because of the rapid multiplication of very small organisms - germs - in those liquids. He investigated further and found that many of...
Mary Seacole (1805-81)
Mary Seacole was a Jamaican-born nurse who helped soldiers during the Crimean War. Her work was praised at the time, but she became even more famous a century later. She was born Mary Grant in Kingston, Jamaica, daughter of a Scottish soldier and the owner of a boarding house for officers and their families. Seacole had a good education, a...
Robert Koch (1843-1910)
The German doctor Robert Koch is considered the founder of modern bacteriology. His discoveries made a significant contribution to the development of the first ‘magic bullets’ - chemicals developed to attack specific bacteria - and Koch was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1905.Koch developed a new experimental method to test whether a particular micr...
Islamic Empire, Western Asia (622-1500 CE)
Earthenware drug jar, Iran, 1401-1500
The rim and top of this hexagonal drug jar is inscribed with Islamic script. The jar is glazed with a striking turquoise colour. The jar would have been used to hold ingredients for preparations or the actual finished product. The jar’s contents would have been protected using an age-old technique – a parchment or vellum cover tied off with str...
Bronze mortar, Iran, 1301-1400
A mortar is a bowl used with a pestle to crush and grind ingredients for drug preparations. Drugs were often in the form of powders, ointments or solutions. This octagonal mortar is made from bronze and has a loop handle. It is quite heavy, weighing just over 4 kg, so it would not have been knocked over easily. See how it is unbalanced at the b...
Brass surgical knife, Syria, 900-1100
Most of the blade of this ancient surgical knife is rusty and part of it is broken. The steel blade is slotted into a brass handle. The loop at the end may have been used as a finger hole to grip the knife during surgery. The knife is believed to date from 900-1100 CE, during which period the Islamic world became a major centre for medical st...
Spread of Islam
Islam spreads through Middle East, Africa and Asia, increasing influence of Islamic medicine and Arabic language
Galen translated into Arabic
Hunayn ibn Ishaq translates Galen's works into Arabic, ensuring their survival and ongoing influence
al-Razi's medical encyclopaedia
al-Razi (Rhazes), writes encycopedias of medicine which become standard texts in Islamic and European medical schools. He encourages experimentation and observation, and makes the first clear distinction between smallpox and measles. Died in 925
Hospital, or bimaristan, established in Cairo
al-Zahrawi's surgical textbook
al-Zahrawi (Albucasis) writes 'Kitab al-Tasrif', which remains a standard surgical textbook in Islamic and European universities until the 1500s
Ibn Sina's 'Canon of Medicine'
Ibn Sina (Avicenna writes) the 'al-Qanun fi al-tibb' or 'Canon of Medicine', which remains a standard textbook in Muslim and European universities until the 1700s
Ibn Al-Nafis describes circulation of blood
Ibn al-Nafis discovers the pulmonary circulation, in which blood moves from the right to the left side of the heart via the lungs
Abu al-Qasim Khalaf ibn al-Abbas Al-Zahrawi, known as Albucasis (936-1013)
Abu al-Qasim Khalaf ibn al-Abbas Al-Zahrawi was born near Cordoba, Spain, when it was part of the Islamic Empire. He was a physician, surgeon and chemist. He is best remembered for his encyclopedia of medicine, the Al-Tasrif li man ajaz an-il-talif (An Aid for Those Who Lack the Capacity to Read Big Books), known as the al-Tasrif. This became ...
Abu Bakr Mohammad Ibn Zakariya al-Razi (Rhazes) (c. 865-925)
Abu Bakr Mohammad Ibn Zakariya al-Razi, known in the West as Rhazes, was the leading scholar of the early Islamic world. His stature is comparable only to that of Ibn Sina a century later. Influenced by Hippocrates and classical Greek medicine, Al Razi wrote numerous books on a range of medical and scientific subjects. The Al-Mans...
Ala al-Din Abu al-Hassan Ali ibn Abi-Hazm al-Qarshi al-Dimashqi (Ibn al-Nafis) (1210-88)
A polymath, Ibn al-Nafis was born in Damascus in Syria, and spent much of his working life in Egypt, becoming head physician in a medical school in Cairo. He was also influential in questioning the authority of Galen, suggesting that ‘observation, sensible investigation, and common sense’ were more important than blindly following ancient t...
Abu Ali al-Husayn ibn Abdullah ibn Sina (Ibn Sina) (980-1037 CE)
Abu Ali al-Husayn ibn Abdullah ibn Sina, known as Ibn Sina, and in the West as Avicenna, was one of the most celebrated philosophers and physicians in the early Islamic Empire. He wrote prolifically on a wide range of subjects. Forty of his medical texts have survived, the most famous of which are the Kitab ash-Shifa (the Book of Healing) a...
Middle Ages/Medieval, Europe (400-1430 CE)
Salerno medical School in Italy
First written reference to School of Salerno, Italy, an early medical school which combined classical, Arabic and Jewish medical theories
St Thomas' Hospital in London
St Thomas' Hospital is founded in London, as part of the Priory of St Mary Overie
Bethlem Royal Hospital ('Bedlam') founded in London
Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem founded in London for the care of the mentally ill. Becomes better know as Bethlem Royal Hospital or 'Bedlam'
Papal directive on dissection
Pope Boniface VIII issued a papal bull (directive) which prohibits the cutting up of the dead for the purpose of transport and burial. This was interpreted as a ban on anatomical dissection by many
Black death breaks out in China, where it kills around 30% of the population. The Black death spreads to Europe, where it kills between 25% and 50% of the population over the next decades
Fall of Constantinople
Fall of Constantinople leads many scholars to emigrate to Italy, bringing Greek knowledge with them to Europe
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
Hildegard of Bingen was a German nun in the 1100s. She was also an author, philosopher, musician and herbalist who wrote extensively on health care. Hildegard was born into a noble family in the region of Sponheim, Germany. In early childhood she had visions, and was presented by her family to become a nun at the age of eight. She was brought ...
The Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus was one of the most influential medical scientists in early modern Europe.His real name was Theophrastus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim and he was the son of a doctor. After a brief period as a medical student in Italy, he travelled all over Europe and beyond as a military surgeon with the Venetia...
The Hotel Dieu in Paris is one of Europe’s oldest hospitals still operating today, dating back to around 651 CE. Like many early and medieval hospitals it was a multipurpose institution which catered for the poor and sick, offering food and shelter, as well as medical care. From 1580, however, the hospital’s regulations specified that doctors ...
Renaissance, Europe (1430-1650)
Embroidered illustration of an astrologer's prediction, England, 1620-1630
Embroidered on to cloth, an astrologer is shown contacting the spirit world to make a prediction. It is thought that the illustration shows an astrologer predicting the birth of a child in front of Charles I, King of England, Scotland and Ireland (1625-1649) and his queen, Henrietta Maria (1609–69). Another interpretation is that the astrologer...
Iron artificial arm, Europe, 1560-1600
The left forearm and hand of this prosthetic arm are fully articulated. The arm was purchased from the private collection of Noel Hamonic (active 1850-1928) by Henry Wellcome in 1928. When Hamonic collected the arm, it was thought to have belonged to Götz von Berlichingen (1480-1562). Berlichingen was a German knight who famously lost an arm at...
Genoese medicine chest, 1562-1566
This magnificent and unique medicine chest was made for Vincenzo Giustiniani (d. 1570), the last Genoese governor of the island of Chios in the eastern Aegean Sea. He ruled Chios from 1562 until the Turks expelled the Genoese in 1566 after an occupation of some two hundred years. On a box from the middle drawer is painted the symbol of Chios – ...
'De humani corporis fabrica' by Vesalius, published Basel, Switerland, 1555
It’s the year 1543, and you’ve just seen a copy of Andreas Vesalius’s new book De Humani Corporis Fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body). Before you even begin to read, the picture on the front page contains many clues about the revolutionary changes taking place in anatomy. In the middle of the picture, Vesalius himself is dissecting a cor...
Bullet extractor, France, 1501-1600
Although attempts had been made to remove bullet-like projectiles when firearms had been introduced into warfare as early as the 1200s, only those near the surface of the skin could be treated. Special instruments for removing bullets only came into use in the early 1500s as firearms became increasingly sophisticated. Screw-type bullet extrac...
Touchpiece issued by Henry VII, England, 1485-1509
From the Middle Ages, it was believed that English and French monarchs had the power to heal through touch. Henry VII (1547-1509) gave the ‘royal touch’ to this touchpiece and passed it on to his subjects in the hope of curing scrofula, a form of tuberculosis also known as the King’s Evil. The touchpieces were pierced so that they could be susp...
Gutenberg's printing press
The German Johannes Gutenberg develops a printing press with movable type. This allows books to be produced far more cheaply and dramatically increases the flow of publications availablein Europe
Royal College of Physicians
Royal College of Physicians of London founded by Henry VIII. The college had the power to grant licences, and act against unqualified practitioners
Henry VIII closes many of the larger hospitals and monasteries in England, as part of the dissolution of monasteries
Guild of Barbers and Surgeons formed in London
Unification of the companies of Barbers and Surgeons to form the Guild of Barbers and Surgeons in London
'De Fabrica Corporis Humani'
Andreas Vesalius publishes 'De Fabrica Corporis Humani', or 'On the Fabric of the Human Body', which corrects Greek anatomical errors and revolutionizes European medicine
Serveto describes circulation
Spanish physician Miguel Serveto describes the circulation of blood through the lungs and is accused of heresy and burned at the stake for heresy the same year, aged 44
Paré’s surgical works published
Publications of Ambroise Paré’s surgical works, 'Les Oeuvres', influencing surgery across Europe
Anatomical theatre in Padua
Permanent anatomical theatre opens at University of Padua
Burton's 'Anatomy of Melancholy'
Publication of Robert Burton's 'Anatomy of Melancholy', considered the first encyclopaedia dealing with mental illness
Harvey on circulation of blood
Publication of William Harvey's theory of the circulation of the blood
Forceps and 'man-midwives'
Obstetrical forceps invented by Peter Chamberlen. The family managed to keep their forceps a secret until 1728 and used them to establish themselves as 'man-midwives'
Ambroise Paré (1510-90)
Ambroise Paré was an innovative French surgeon who served as royal surgeon for a number of French kings, including Henri II. Having been apprenticed to a barber, Paré joined the army in 1536, and spent much of the next 30 years as a military surgeon. He improved or invented many techniques, especially in the treatment of war wounds. Many s...
Andreas Vesalius (1514-64)
The anatomist Andreas Vesalius investigated the human body by means of dissection and changed doctors' attitudes towards the role of observation in medicine. Born in Brussels, Vesalius studied medicine at two of the most renowned universities of the time, Paris and Padua. As a student, he was interested in comparing Greek texts with their Arab...
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
One of the most famous figures of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci fused artistic and scientific visions. He was the illegitimate son of a public notary, and a woman of whom little is known except her name, Caterina. He worked throughout Italy, including Florence, Venice and Milan. In his lifetime, da Vinci was known as a painter, sculptor, ...
Roman Empire, Europe (200 BCE-400 CE)
Probe and scoop, Roman, 54-411 CE
A probe was used to explore wounds and to gain knowledge about the structure of the body. A scoop was used to scrape or clean parts of the body. It was not unusual for instruments to have two uses. The stem has a twisted design. Originally, the bronze would have been polished to a high sheen. This bronze instrument was excavated from the river...
Thigh tourniquet, Roman, 199 BCE-500 CE
A tourniquet is used to control bleeding, especially during amputations. It is a device that is still in use today. This example was used on the thigh and is made from bronze. Many of the straps have engraved patterns and originally the bronze would have been coated with leather to make the patient as comfortable as possible. The tourniquet c...
Statue of the goddess Hygeia, Roman, 250-100 BCE
Hygeia was one of the daughters of Asklepios, the Greco-Roman god of medicine and healing. Hygeia was worshipped as the goddess of good health or cleanliness. Her name is where we get the word ‘hygiene’ from. This small statue is made from marble and was reputedly found in Ostia, Italy, in the early 1900s.
Votive left ear, Roman, 200 BCE-100 CE
Votive offerings were presented to a god, either in the hope of a cure or as thanks for one. They were made in the shape of the afflicted body part – in this case a person’s ears. They may have been experiencing deafness or infection. Made from bronze, the ears are now coated with chemical compounds formed from corrosion (called bronze disease)...
Copy of a stone plaque from a Roman bath, made in Europe, 1901-1950
Washing and cleansing were significant parts of everyday Roman life. The original plaque, of which this is a copy, was found at Qurbus, Tunisia. It recorded the building of a solarium or sun-bathing terrace at the Roman baths in Carthage, in 44-43 BCE. The translation of the inscription is “Decimus Laelius Balbus, son of Decimus, Quaestor for...
Valetudinaria established in Roman empire, probably providing care for soldiers
The cult of Asklepios, the Greek god of healing begins, and spreads throughout Roman Empire
Celsus compiles medical encyclopedia, including multiples volumes on medicine, disease and healthy living
Fall of Roman Empire
Roman Empire falls, leading European doctors to lose contact with Greek and Eastern knowledge
Galen (c. 129 - c. 216/17 CE)
Galen was born in Greece, studied medicine in Egypt and became the most celebrated physician in the Roman Empire. His theories were to dominate Western medical thinking for centuries after his death. A radical and innovative experimenter, he considered dissection a key tool in understanding the human body. Although he was restricted by...
World Time Era
Minefield warning sign, Cambodia, 1997-2002
Landmines were laid in Cambodia during the 1979-1989 Vietnamese occupation and afterwards as a means of defence from enemy attacks. Landmines are laid underground and are detonated by pressure – usually when stepped on. Since 1979, 25,000 Cambodians – most of them civilians, many of them children – have lost limbs because they stepped on landmi...
Genetically modified freeze dried pig heart, United Kingdom, 1999
A pig’s heart is close in structure and size to a human heart. This freeze dried example was genetically engineered to be suitable for transplant into humans so the body will not reject the new organ. The practice of using animal organs for human body parts is known as xenotransplantation. The first animal-to-human heart transplant took place i...
Penicillium mould presented by Alexander Fleming, 1935
In 1928 Alexander Fleming (1881-1955), a British bacteriologist, observed that a stray growth of Penicillium mould could affect colonies of bacteria. Around a felt-like mould he noticed a sterile area where the growth of bacteria had stopped – although he didn’t realise the potential uses of penicillin. Penicillin was eventually isolated in 194...
Blood transfusion apparatus, United Kingdom, 1914-1918
It’s 1917, and you are a wounded soldier at a casualty clearing station on the Western Front. You are bleeding badly and going into shock. You are in danger of dying and urgently need blood – where’s the nearest blood bank? He’s right next to you. Your blood transfusion will come directly from another patient. Is it safe? It’s the best method ...
X-ray of a human skull, England, 1901-1930
Showing a human skull with injuries to the side, this X-ray is printed on a glass plate. X-rays were first discovered in 1895 by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (1845-1923), and the potential of being able to look inside the body without resorting to surgery was quickly realised by physicians. Despite this, take up of the technology was initially slow, ...
Acupuncture training model, China, 1725-1730
Imagine you’re training to be a doctor in China in 1026. What kind of exams will you take? You will need to do a practical exam, not just write essays. One of your tasks will be to demonstrate that you understand the idea of meridians – channels of energy running through the body. Your examiner will ask you to diagnose and treat some symptoms...
Copy of clay liver used for divination, original from Babylon, 2050-1750 BCE
Divination was used by the Babylonians in Mesopotamia in attempts to predict the future, including the course and outcome of an illness or disease. The liver of an animal was interpreted in a practice called hepatoscopy. Specific areas of the body were examined closely and small sticks were placed in the hole of a corresponding clay model, like...
Indian and Sri Lankan hospitals
Hospitals established in India and Sri Lanka
Ayurvedic text on internal medicine
Charaka, or his followers, produce the Charaka Samhita - an authoritative Ayurvedic text focusing on internal medicine
Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine
Composition of Huangdi Neijing (Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine), which lays the framework for the basic theories of traditional Chinese medicine
Penicillin discovered in mould by Alexander Fleming
Tuskegee Syphilis Study
Beginning of Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which African-American men with syphillis were deliberately left untreated. The experiment ended in 1972
First blood bank is set up at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, United States
Wellcome Trust created to support medical research and the history of medicine on the death of Henry Wellcome
First total artificial hip replacement is developed by John Wiles. It is made of stainless steel
Second World War
Second World War begins, ending in 1945. The war involves most nations, organised into two alliances fighting against each other, the Allied and the Axis forces. Over 70 million people, the majority of them civilians, were killed in the conflict
Penicillin is developed as an antibiotic by Howard Florey and Ernest Chain
National Health Service (NHS) comes into operation in the United Kingdom, providing free health care for all
World Health Organization (WHO)
World Health Organization (WHO) is established by the United Nations
Traditional and scientific medicine merged in China
Chairman Mao officially unites Traditional Chinese Medicine with Western biomedicine, and acupuncture became established in many hospitals across China
Beginning of the end of colonialism
African and Asian nations begin to win independence from previous colonial rulers
Salk polio vaccine
Jonas Salk develops the first polio vaccine, which goes into widespread use in 1955
DNA double helix
James Watson and Francis Crick determine the molecular structure of DNA
WHO malaria campaign
World Health Organisation (WHO) global malaria eradication programme, centring on use of DDT. Despite a massive programme, by the 1970s it is clear that the incidence of malaria is increasing again worldwide
First human heart transplant
Christiaan Barnard, South African surgeon performs first human heart transplant on Louis Washkansky
Multi-channel cochlear implant, or 'bionic ear' based on work of Graeme Clark at the University of Melbourne
First IVF child
Birth in the UK of the first child conceived by in vitro fertilization (IVF)
Integrated Chinese medicine
Chinese government establishes national guidelines for the long term integration of Traditional Chinese medicine and biomedicine on into China's healthcare system
End of smallpox
Smallpox is declared eradicated
First successful heart-lung transplant performed in Stanford
AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is first described. Its cause, the HIV virus is identified in 1983
WHO malaria campaign
World Health Organisation (WHO) announces Roll Back Malaria Campaign
Dolly the sheep
Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be successfully cloned from adult cells, by a team of researchers at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh. She died in 2003
'Susrata Samhita', classic Ayurvedic text
Susrata, a Hindu surgeon writes an encyclopedia, the 'Susrata Samhita', which becomes one of the classic texts of Ayurvedic medicine. In it he, and perhaps his students and followers, described the many branches of surgical practice, including recontructive surgery
Acupuncture and pulse diagnosis
Chinese physician Bian Que becomes the earliest doctor known to use acupuncture and pulse diagnosis
First urban centres, in Mesopotamia
Animals and plants domesticated
Domestication of animals and plants, and subsequent rise of new human diseases
Chinese guide to drugs
China's earliest guide to drugs, 'Shen-nung pen ts'ao ching' ('The Divine Husbandman's Materia Medica', or 'The Book of Herbs'), lists 365 medicines derived from minerals, plants, and animals. It is attributed to the legendary Emperor Shen-nung, who is credited with inventing agriculture and acupuncture, but was probably written after his death.
Chinese medical textbook
Zhang Zhongjing publishes Shang Han Lun (On Cold Disease Damage), the oldest complete medical textbook in the world, focusing on diagnosis, treatment and prognosis
Chinese acupuncture model
'Bronze man' designed by Wang Weiyi to demonstrate acupuncture points. Wang Weiyi also writes the 'Tongren Shuxue Zhenjiu Tujing' ('Illustrated Manual of Acu-points on the Bronze Statue')
European trade in enslaved Africans begins
Beginning of European slave trade in Africa with first shipment of enslaved African sent directly from Africa to Portugal
Europeans encounter America
First European encounter with the Americas. Increasing numbers of European nations seek land, gold and slaves in the Americas. Millions of indigenous American people die from new diseases brought by the Europeans, against which they have no immunity. New plants, medicines - and possibly diseases - brought back to Europe
European impact on Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa devastated by the slave trade, and many African empires disintegrate. European powers move into Africa
Smallpox epidemic in Mexico
Smallpox epidemic in Vera Cruz, Mexico. Smallpox epidemics in 1520s in Mexico and Central America kill at least one third of the indigenous population
Chinese pharmacology textbook
Li Shih-Chen sums up Chinese pharmacology in his 'Great Pharmacopoeia'. The book describes more than 1800 medicines, and took over 27 years to complete
Chinese textbook of medicines
'Bencao Gangmù' or 'Compendium of Materia Medica', by Li Shizhen, published. Conisdered the most comphrensive guide to medicines in traditional Chinese medicine, it contains over 11,000 prescriptions to treat illness
Smallpox variolation spreads
Smallpox inoculation, known as variolation, spreads to parts of Africa, India and the Ottoman Empire
Smallpox epidemic in Boston
Smallpox epidemic in Boston - Cotton Mather urges mass inoculation, based on African techniques passed to him by Onesimus, one of his enslaved workers
First general anaesthetic
Seishu Hanaoka performs operation under general anaesthetic,successfully treating a breast cancer patient
Elizabeth Blackwell is the first woman to qualify as a doctor in the United States
Colonialism and spread of European medicine
Much of Africa and Asia under European colonial rule. European models of hospitals, health care and medical training are spread through colonial rule
The Crimean War, fought between the Russian Empire and British, French Sardinian and Ottoman forces. Peace declared in 1856
Iron lung developed by Philip Drinker and Louis Shaw
Birth control manual
Publication of Marie Stopes's birth control manual, 'Contraception'
Outbreak of influenza pandemic resulting in the death of around 20 million persons worldwide
Birth control clinic
Margaret Sanger founds first American birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York
Francis Crick, British biologist who determined the molecular structure of DNA with James Watson in 1953. Died in 2004
First World War
First World War, a global conflict, which which took place primarily in Europe from 1914 to 1918. There were over 40 million casualties during the war
Syphilis successfully treated
Paul Ehrlich announces his discovery of Salvarsan, used to treat syphilis. Neosalvarsan introduced in 1912
Blood types determined
Human blood is classified into three groups by Karl Landsteiner, an Austrian pathologist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1930
Freud's 'Interpretation of Dreams'
Publication of Sigmund Freud's 'Interpretation of Dreams', offering new ideas about the role of the unconscious. Considered as the birth of psychoanalysis
Albert Sabin (1906-93)
Albert Sabin was a medical researcher in the United States who developed the oral vaccine for polio which has become the standard defence against the disease. Working on polio from the 1940s, Sabin observed that some people had immunity even though they had never shown signs of having the disease. Believing they had previously been infected by...
Jonas Salk (1914-95)
Jonas Salk was an American doctor who developed the first effective vaccine against polio. Having worked on a flu vaccine in the 1940s, Salk switched his attention to polio, which had become a much feared epidemic disease in post-war America. He successfully produced a vaccine in 1952 and this was introduced into general use in 1955. His vacci...
Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915)
The germ theory of disease developed by scientists such as Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch led to the development of the first ‘magic bullets’, chemicals developed to attack specific bacteria. The German doctor Paul Ehrlich, a member of Koch's research team, stained micro-organisms in order to observe them under the m...
Seishu Hanaoka (1760-1835)
Seishu Hanaoka was a Japanese physician who studied traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine, as well as European techniques. He specialised in breast cancer and pioneered the use of general anaesthetics in surgery.While new and more effective anaesthetics were developed in the West around the middle of the 1800s, in Japan general anaesthetic...