Anatomical Teaching Models
It’s believed that anatomical models have been used for teaching purposes (as opposed to ritualistic or religious purposes) since some point between 100 BCE - 300 CE, since dissection of the dead was a taboo and crime in the Late Greek and Roman empire, and paper or vellum for illustration was much more fragile than, say, carved wooden figures.
However, most of our evidence for anatomical models comes from the late Medieval era and later, when materials such as ivory and sealed papier-mâché were used for many anatomical carvings. Later, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, wax sculptures were common in medical schools, as much finer detail was attainable with such a pliable substance.
Today, most models used for teaching both lay persons and students are made from thermoplastics and texturing agents, and can range from highly detailed micro-premature babies, to fully-removable models of life-sized animals with every layer of tissue and organs, to huge versions of virions not normally visible except under an electron microscope. Given that the majority of students show greatly increased memory of a subject when able to physically manipulate a representation of it, the use of anatomical teaching models is here to stay.
For more on anatomical models and tons more on the history of medicine, visit the Science Museum: Brought to Life!
Top: Anatomical structure of reclining woman in early pregnancy. Florence, Italy, ca. 1770.
Center left: Wax model of the human brain, with skin, skull, and meninges removed. Intended for medical students. Western Europe, ca. 1700-1900. Date uncertain.
Center right: Papier-mache model of acupuncture meridians. Japan, ca. 1601-1700.
Bottom left: Sculpture of male black infant, 22-23 weeks development. Created for exhibit on how micro-preemies are kept alive in the modern era. England, 1998.
Bottom right: Model of an adenovirus, magnified 3,000,000x, from electron microscope images. London, England, 1985.