I’m actually working on a side-page of my own regarding this, but for now, it’s kind of a pain to write good guidelines as to what a “good” site is, and in the end some sites can be both good and bad…just like some journals, and some magazines, and some institutions.
Knowing what is true and what isn’t isn’t a one-time trip. You have to be prepared to be surprised, and you have to keep an open mind to the fact that you might be wrong. But don’t think that just because someone says you’re wrong, you are - you have to approach a topic skeptically. Sometimes science proves former “truths” to be incorrect, and former fallacies to be true - but it’s extremely rare (and these days almost unheard of) that someone is “the next persecuted Galileo” like so many claim to be.
A simple list to how to find a good site can be found here.
For more in-depth and life lessons on skeptical thinking and finding the truth in the world, I highly recommend Carl Sagan’s "Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark”, which you can get at most book stores or Amazon, and read in part here.
There are a few that you can find on Google Scholar that explicitly mention the mouth as a sexual organ, but they are largely based upon the works of Freud or some earlier, more…”interesting”, points of view.
I don’t know what resources you have available to you, but if you’re on a high school or college campus, you probably have access to a lot of different journals - I just don’t know which ones you can access.
Beyond Freudian stuff, there are two broad approaches to seeing the mouth as a sexual organ; it can either be viewed as a site of physical stimulation or chemical stimulation (the body responding to a partner’s MHC profile/hormonal profile and *possibly* [not very likely] responding to the pheromone signals via the human vomeronasal organ).
If you’re looking at it as a site of physical stimulation, try looking up the works of Kinsey, and the follow-up research done in the 1990s that heavily references Kinsey. Chemical stimulation articles can be found in the Chemical Senses journal, among others, by searching for “MHC human sexuality”, “human vomeronasal organ”, and similar terms.
The mouth is also seen as a sexual organ owing to its aural stimulation abilities when producing sounds during intercourse or even in non-sexual interactions. However, this is not a widely-researched view.
The Insinger papyrus, from the Ptolemaic period, states:
A man spends ten years as a child before he understands death and life,
He spends another ten years acquiring the instruction by which he will be able to live.
He spends another ten years earning and gaining possessions by which to live.
He spends another ten years up to old age, when his heart becomes his counselor.
There remain sixty years of the whole life, which Thoth has assigned to the man of god.
From the age of 40 to the expected 100, a man could enjoy the best years of his life, using the fruits of his labor and knowledge.
Of course, most people did not live to be 100, but by the Ptolemaic period, the average age of those whose ages were noted (meaning they likely had a burial of at least middle-class status) was 54 years for men, and 58 for women. The long lifespan has been attributed to a generally healthy lifestyle, a diet with adequate grains and proteins, and a society that generally revered their elders and cared for them, even when they were not able to physically contribute to society.
When You Lived a Long Life…
The workers on the pyramids (and within the royal court) also had pensions, which is the first time in history that this concept was recorded. They received grain rations that, while smaller than what the workers got, was more than enough to sustain an elderly citizen.
It was also expected that the children (especially the oldest son) or nieces and nephews would help attend to the needs of the elderly. Of course, this did not always happen, and there have been wills and manifests found expressly disinheriting children for being disrespectful or not caring for their parents in their frail dotage.
Of Course, Lots of People Still Died Young:
The lifespan was, of course, not always nearly 60 years. From the Old Kingdom onward, the lifespan slowly increased, from a starting point of around an average of 22-30 years of age.
Analysis of over 3000 Egyptian mummies and medical papyri have left behind information about many different diseases that people suffered and died from.
During the spring and summer (the dry season), the much smaller amount of water available led to concentrations of people in a very narrow region along the banks. This created ideal conditions for infectious diseases, like dysentery, smallpox, typhoid, and relapsing fever.
When the rainy season came, malaria was, of course, very prevalent, thanks to standing water in the flooded fields, which served as ideal mosquito breeding grounds.
A few of the other diseases and ailments found in mummies included:
- Atherosclerosis: A hardening of the arteries, prevalent especially in non-clergy Egyptians. Their healthy lifestyle and diet led researchers to hypothesize that the atherosclerosis originated from the repeated inflammation due to parasitic diseases. There is also the possibility that salt-preserved foods contributed to unhealthy arteries.
- Dental caries: The corn in Egypt was very coarsely ground, and to more finely grind it, sand would be added. This, combined with lots of other coarse foods, would lead to fairly rapid decay of teeth, exposure of the dentin and pulp, and chronic infections. These infections would be routinely drained by physicians, using a thin hollow reed.
- Bone trauma: There was a LOT of this. I mean, they hauled around huge blocks of stone, what would you expect? Broken arms were very common. Unsurprisingly, physicians were fairly good at setting broken bones, and if the skin wasn’t broken (allowing in infection), the splinted limbs had a decent recovery rate.
Humans have been out to get each other since before we were even Homo sapiens sapiens. For the strong and the brash, there was always outright physical violence; a club to the head or a knife to the throat was a simple way to destroy an unsuspecting rival.
But humanity had more than just violence at its disposal. Those inclined to plan and use their brains over their brawn found that there was an easier way to kill, one that would not risk their own body in an attack, or let others know who killed their rival, or even if the rival was killed by another person in the first place.
Enter: POISONS. Historically largely derived from plants, humans have murdered each other, and at times themselves, using various species of plants. There is an expansive list of plants that can potentially kill a human, but a few have gained reputations over the millenia as premier agents of death…
A Modern Herbal. Mrs. M. Grieve, 1931.
Plants and Civilization. Maintained by Prof. Arthur C. Gibson, from 1985 textbook.
There are four primary classes of Lethal Agents that are produced as weapons. There are also two classes of Non-Lethal Harassing Agents.
Lethal agents are classified by the affect that they have on the body, as all have the capacity to cause death.
Harassing agents are less developed, as the line between incapacitation and lethality is often difficult to control with gaseous weapons, and incapacitation was seen as having little use in warfare for most of history.
The categories of chemicals are also unrefined, and the difference is only how used they are - “Incapacitators" are currently only in very rare experimental situations, and have not had good effects or publicity in any of the known situations they were in. "Riot Control" chemicals are considered non-lethal lachrymatory or vomit agents, and are intended for use against civilians or civilian groups seen as belligerent.
After the decline of the Roman Empire, there was very little usage of chemical weaponry, despite the accusations of many against minority groups. The Plague and the Church controlled the hearts and minds of the populace, and neither were conducive to new innovations in weaponry.
That’s not to say interest was completely lost in the tactic, though. During the Medieval Era and Renaissance, there were multiple proposed usages of chemical warfare, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s suggestion of lobbing mangonels filled with "…poison in the form of powder…chalk, fine sulfide of arsenic, and powdered verdegris…” against naval combatants, so as to asphyxiate the enemy. However, there is no evidence that this suggestion was utilized at any point.
The Invasion of Hispaniola
Of the weapons that were known to have actually been used, the Taíno’s 15th-century use of powdered hot peppers against invading Spaniards is one of the more unique. The peppers were ground together with fine ashes, and kept in brittle gourds. When the Spaniards approached, the gourds were thrown from above, and caused them both choking and temporary blindness. The refinement of the tribe’s tactic and subsequent attack while the enemy was incapacitated (but after the ash had settled) suggests that the Taíno may have used these weapons previously, likely against their rival Caribs. Unfortunately, the successful stalling and incapacitation of the newcomers did not save the natives.
Renaissance of Culture, Science, and Chemical Warfare
Back in Europe and Central Asia, the primary chemical tactic used was to simply add noxious agents, such as sulfur, saltpeter, or antimony, to incendiary weapons or structural fires. The immediate irritation to the lungs and eyes often made it so that the people who may have otherwise been able to escape the area would be halted by coughing and disorientation, and eventually killed by smoke inhalation.
However, that wasn’t all that was used. There is evidence that in 1672, the Bishop of Münster, Bernhard von Galen, attempted to overtake the city of Groningen using explosives and incendiary devices that had both dried and fresh Belladonna (Deadly Nightshade) incorporated into them. There is no evidence that there was any additional affect to the citizens of Groningen due to the added plants, but the intent was no doubt to induce the delirium and confusion that belladonna poisoning was known for.
Though chemical weapons became well-known and feared during the First World War, evidence of their use goes back almost 15,000 years, to the South African San tribes, which utilized poison from scorpions and snakes on their arrow tips used for hunting.
However, unlike the Mesoamerican peoples who were shown to have used curare vine and dart frog poison on their weapons several thousand years later, there is a lack of evidence that the San actively used these tactics against other humans. That’s not to say that they didn’t, but there is as yet no solid evidence of it that has been found.
Chemicals in Early Warfare
Despite the efficacy of poison-tipped arrows and weapons in killing individuals, to utilize chemical weaponry in warfare required being able to disperse a substance over a significant area, so as to incapacitate or kill large numbers of enemies. Aside from large-scale water and foodstore poisonings, gaseous compounds have been used against enemies and revolting subjects alike, since before the days of Sun-Tzu in the East, and the Peloponnesian War in the West.
Thucidydes wrote in 500 BCE, in History of the Peloponnesian War, of Spartans burning wood, pitch, and sulfur under the walls of Athens, hoping to incapacitate the enemy before the direct assault. Unfortunately, a thunderstorm rolled in shortly after the incendiaries were ignited, and the tactic failed. There were recorded incidents of burning sulfur in several wars in the following millennium, however, and it functioned as a moderate choking agent when it dispersed correctly.
Recent excavations of Dura-Europos, in modern-day Syria, proved that burning sulfur could be extremely effective in closed quarters, especially when combined with other compounds. In 256 CE, the city launched a counter-attack against Roman forces tunneling under the battlements. The Persians heard the tunneling, and formed a smaller tunnel that connected to the Romans. At the bottom of their tunnel, they lit a fire of pitch, sulfur, and bitumen. The smoke from this fire traveled up a small chimney and into the larger Roman tunnel.
Almost 17 centuries later, excavators in the 1930s would find a pile of twenty men within the large tunnel, with Roman armor, and no apparently mortal wounds to their bones, unlike those found from the same era and area. Though ancient texts proposed chemical and incendiary tactics, proof of their use had never before been found in this area. However, in 2008, a team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester tested the tunnels, remains, and findings within the tunnels, and their findings demonstrated the earliest archaeological proof of chemical warfare.
An eponym is a word derived from the name of a person, real or fictional. They can be found in every discipline of academia, but are particularly prevalent in medicine and physiology.
There are signs, reflexes, diseases, syndromes, medical instruments, and almost everything else you can think of, named after the discoverer, inventor, or someone else significant in the term’s development. Often the names become so associated with what they refer to that the historical figure is completely forgotten, even among those who use the term every day.
In light of that, let’s check out a few of the real people who have their legacy preserved in the parts of the body associated with their name -
Anatomical Eponyms -
Eustachian tube: Named after Bartolomeo Eustachi, a 16th-century Italian anatomist. Though very little is known about his life in general, he was physician to nobility and religious figures, and was unusually open (for the age) to new “innovative” ideas about anatomy not put forth by Galen, something his contemporaries actively fought. The Eustachian tube is a 3-4 cm canal that connects the middle ear to the nose, which maintains equal atmospheric pressure on either side of the eardrum. Admirer of Eustachi Antonio Maria Valsalva first coined the term “Eustachian tube” around 100 years after Eustachi’s death.
Fallopian tubes: Named after Gabriele Falloppio, one of the most important anatomists of the 16th century, and a contemporary of other notables such as Eustachi and Vesalius. He corrected many of Vesalius’ mistakes in myology, and wrote some of the most detailed works on the inner ear and sexual organs to date. The Fallopian tubes are two fine ciliated tubules in females, leading from the ovaries to the uterus, which carry mature ova away from the ovary during ovulation.
Organ of Corti: Named after Alfonso Giacomo Gaspare Corti, an Italian anatomist who performed some of the first microscopic studies on mammalian hearing in the mid-19th century. His methods of preserving the cochlea were able to effectively allow him to discover some of the tiny mechanisms of hearing that hadn’t been previously understood. The organ of Corti is the organ in the inner ear that has the auditory sensory cells, or “hair cells” - those things your doctor warns you can’t re-grow if you listen to music too loudly!
Cowper’s Glands: Named after William Cowper, the late-17th-century English anatomist, who was the first to describe these glands. Though considered a great surgeon and anatomist in his own right, there was an unfortunate incident where he published several plates of Govard Bidloo’s musculature works under his own name (with no mention of Bidloo), and there was a very heated exchange between the two men and their supporters. The Cowper’s glands are small glands in the male, on either side of the prostate gland, and release pre-seminal fluid. This fluid neutralizes the acidic traces of urine in the urethra, which has the potential to kill the spermatozoa.
Haversian Canal: Named after 17th-century (I sense a bit of a trend here…) English anatomist Clopton Havers. He was a physician with a keen interest in microscopy and bones, and was the first to document several unique substructures in both compact and spongy bone. The Haversian canals are small hollow canals that run within the longitudinal axis of compact bones, which generally contain one or two capillaries and a nerve. They deliver nutrients to the living bone cells.
Bundle of His: Named after Wilhelm His Jr., the late-19th-century Swiss cardiologist and anatomist. He practiced and taught medicine in Berlin, Germany, and only became a cardiologist later in life. His earlier work on diseases led to his name being used as one of the eponyms for trench fever, which is a pretty horrendous disease of war. The bundle of His is also known as the atrioventricular (AV) bundle, and is a collection of cardiac muscle cells specialized for electrical conduction, essential for a rhythmic heartbeat.
Islets of Langerhans: Named after Paul Langerhans, a 19th-century German physiologist, pathologist, and biologist. He was the son of a physician and was keenly interested in anatomy from an early age, and many of his most important discoveries were before he turned 30. He was also keen on biology, and did work on the fauna of Syria and the surrounding areas. The islets of Langerhans are the regions of the pancreas that contain the endocrine cells. They’re most well-known for producing insulin.
Circle of Willis: Named after Thomas Willis, a 17th-century English physician and founding member of the Royal Society of London. He also belonged to the circles that the many notable contemporary Oxford scientists comprised. Though he had a very well-off medical practice, his association with the Oxford experimenters led to significant time spent in the dissection room and trading ideas. Willis wrote about rudimentary psychological principles, neurology, and the anatomy of the brain. The Circle of Willis is a circle of arteries at the base of the brain. It creates a level of redundancy for the brain’s blood supply, meaning that if one part of it gets blocked or narrowed, the brain can stay fully oxygenated by getting blood from another artery that connects to the Circle.
Of course, this is only a few of the many medical and anatomical eponyms out there, but they’re some of the ones you tend to hear about a lot but might not know the origin of.
Next time I’ll cover Purkinje fibers, the Node of Ranvier, the Loop of Henle, Malpighian bodies, Meissner's corpuscles, Volkmann’s canals, Sharpey’s fibers, and Herring bodies (which are not fish).
Sources and Further Reading:
The origins of medical terms are interesting enough, but Greek and Latin roots are used throughout the sciences, and around here, you’ll see them a lot when it comes to species names. There are some interesting ones out there, with some bizarre (and sometimes humorous) meanings…
But first! Some taxonomy basics:
Setting aside phylogeny-specific nomenclature and cladistics for now, Linnaean taxonomy is the system of naming species that has been used since, well, Carl Linnaeus. A “taxon" (plural taxa) is simply a grouping of one or more organisms, judged to belong to the same unit based on any number of qualifications.
Though current “Linnaean taxonomy" (which is what’s commonly used in schools and in general literature) differs significantly from Linnaeus’ original three-kingdom, five-level, ranked classifications, it’s still known by that name and takes many of the concepts from it, such as hierarchical classification. Thanks to the popularity of Linnaeus’ 1735 work, Systema Naturae, a solid foundation for modern taxonomy was put in place, with an organized system, and short, understandable, scientific names.
Currently, animal species are organized according to rules set down by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, to ensure uniformity across the zoological community. Plants and bacteria follow different naming codes, but those are less relevant here.
This is a basic schematic demonstrating the hierarchical system that’s used when we classify a species:
According to the ICZN, the basic rank is that of species. The next most important rank is that of genus: when an organism is given a species name it is assigned to a genus, and the genus name is part of the species name. Species and genus were both seen by Linnaeus as “God-given”/”natural”. Anything above genus was considered a construct made by man to more easily classify the world around him.
The third-most important rank, although it was not used by Linnaeus, is that of family. Even though family is important in understanding the classification of an animal, it is not used in the “scientific name”, nor are any of the higher levels in its classification.
So what’s a “scientific name?”
The italicized names that you see in scientific literature (and around here) refer to the specific species of a creature, and are called the binomen; that is, “two names”. Those two names are the genus (first, and capitalized) and the species (second, never capitalized, even when named after a proper noun). An example of a binomen would be Choloepus hoffmanni - the genus is Choloepus, the two-toed sloths, and the species is Choloepus hoffmanni, Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth.
Sometimes there are three names, or the trinomen of a creature. These tell you, first, the genus, second, the species, and third, the subspecies. Take the trinomen Choloepus hoffmanni pallescens. The genus is Choloepus, the species is Choloepus hoffmanni, and the subspecies is Choloepus hoffmanni pallescens, the Peruvian two-toed sloth.
Though you only are told the two (or three) most specific taxonomic groupings for a creature, you can use those (and a phylogenetic tree) to figure out all of the less-specific (Linnaean) taxa it belongs to, such as its Family, Order, Class, and Phylum.
What does the scientific name actually mean, though?
Often, the scientific name describes notable or distinguishing characteristics about a species, that you can decode (scientific terminology time!). Let’s take the species Cyclopes didactylus. The first name given tells us that this creature belongs to the genus Cyclopes - “Circle-foot”. Within that genus, the species name is Cyclopes didactylus (abbreviated C. didactylus after the first use), and yes, you do repeat the genus name in the species name, by ICZN guidelines. On its own, “didactylus" can be broken down to the roots of di-, dactyl, -(o)us. “Having two fingers.” So the binominal can be deciphered as “Circle-foot having two fingers.”
Circle-foot two-fingers! (aka the Silky or Pygmy Anteater)
This descriptive-type species name is not the only way scientists assign taxa, though.
For everything above genus, the taxa are fairly regulated/already-determined, are not easy to add and subtract from, and have strict naming guidelines. From genus on down, though, so long as what you’ve discovered is verified as a new species (or group of species falling together as a genus), congratulations! You have the honor of naming it. Well, assuming it’s not patently offensive, vulgar, or unpronounceable. The ICZN approval board or the equivalent for your field has final say on whether or not a species can be given a submitted name.
Still, there are many ways to name a new species. You can name it in reference to physical characteristics, location found, a specific person or group, or even an ironic joke or pun. Look at the name Linnaeus gave the Blue Whale:
Balaenoptera musculis. Balaenoptera = “Baleen-winged”, ok, they have huge fins and baleen, so that makes sense. Musculis = "little mouse". Har har har.
“Musculis" can also refer to "muscle," but given that Linnaeus was given to puns and double-meanings, he was well aware of the "little mouse" definition.
**Though the specific epithet for a species can be used in more than one genus, genus names must remain absolutely unique, in accordance with ICZN rules. Ex. Since you can have more than one species with the didactylus epithet, Cyclopes didactylus and Inimicus didactylus are both valid names - though you really don’t want to mix up the silky anteater with the "devil stinger"/lumpfish.
**When the specific species is not known, the abbreviation “sp.” is used after the genus name. Ex. Lutra sp. refers to either Lutra lutra OR Lutra sumatrana, but it’s unknown as to which one. When multiple species within a genus are being referred to (or the specific species is unimportant), the abbreviation “spp.” is used after the genus name. Ex. Lutra spp. refers to BOTH Lutra lutra AND Lutra sumatrana.