Biology's Beginnings

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Anatomy: parts of the body and how they fit and work together......more

Dissection: the action of disassembling something, such as an animal, to observe and understand its internal structure.

Books and Dead Bodies

Like a body rising from the dead, biology came back to life around the 1400s. This was the beginning of the Renaissance in Europe. It marked the end of the Early Middle Ages and the start of new learning. Art, books, and science all became popular once again. Biologists during this time focused on learning more about the human body. That meant studying dead ones.

Dissection illustrations

During the Renaissance in Europe, biologists dissected the human body to try to learn about how it works. Click to enlarge.

Dissection was one of the major ways biologists discovered how the body worked. They would put a dead body on a table and slice it open. This way, they could see everything that lets humans run around. Not many people had studied the inside of the human body before. Now they saw veins, nerves, bones, and muscles. Biologists poked around everything. Afterward, they drew pictures of what they found. This helped them understand how it all connected.

Artist or Biologist?

But scientists weren’t the only ones who wanted to know. Artists also wanted to know how the body worked. They wanted to draw and paint more accurate human figures. Leonardo da Vinci studied anatomy so he could paint the human body better. Sculptors, too, needed to study the body to do their work better. A man named Andreas Vesalius was a scientist who worked a lot with corpses. He eventually published a book about the insides of a human body. He included drawings (ick).

In fact, all this new knowledge about biology wouldn’t have spread very far without books. In the 1400s, a man named Johannes Gutenberg invented his printing press. That press let people print books more easily and far faster. New knowledge passed quickly around Europe in books. It paved the way for more and more discovery.

Additional images via Wikimedia Commons. Photograph of da Vinci's A Female Head (La Scapigliata) from the Web Gallery of Art.

View Citation

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Bibliographic details:

  • Article: Buried in Bodies
  • Author(s): Carolina Abboud
  • Publisher: Arizona State University School of Life Sciences Ask A Biologist
  • Site name: ASU - Ask A Biologist
  • Date published: August 6, 2015
  • Date accessed: March 17, 2023
  • Link:

APA Style

Carolina Abboud. (2015, August 06). Buried in Bodies. ASU - Ask A Biologist. Retrieved March 17, 2023 from

American Psychological Association. For more info, see

Chicago Manual of Style

Carolina Abboud. "Buried in Bodies". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 06 August, 2015.

MLA 2017 Style

Carolina Abboud. "Buried in Bodies". ASU - Ask A Biologist. 06 Aug 2015. ASU - Ask A Biologist, Web. 17 Mar 2023.

Modern Language Association, 7th Ed. For more info, see
Leonardo da Vinci studied the body in part to improve his ability to paint human forms.

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