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Hiding in Plain Sight-Ancient Chinese Anatomy

Shaw, Vivien; Diogo, Rui; Winder, Isabelle C.


Rui Diogo

Isabelle C. Winder


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 towards 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 168BCE, 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 re-viewing 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.


Shaw, V., Diogo, R., & Winder, I. C. (2020). Hiding in Plain Sight-Ancient Chinese Anatomy. Anatomical Record: Advances in Integrative Anatomy and Evolutionary Biology,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 29, 2020
Online Publication Date Sep 1, 2020
Publication Date Sep 1, 2020
Deposit Date Oct 22, 2021
Publicly Available Date Oct 27, 2022
Journal Anatomical record: Advances in Integrative Anatomy and Evolutionary Biology
Print ISSN 1932-8486
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Han era; Acupuncture; Anatomical atlas; Anatomy; Meridian
Public URL


Published article (3.1 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2020 The Authors. The Anatomical Record published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of American Association for Anatomy.<br /> This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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