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Description of the Human Spines, showing Numerical Variation, in the Warren Museum of the Harvard Medical School

Nature volume 63, page 512 (28 March 1901) | Download Citation



THIS memoir is for the greater part a careful description, with elaborate tabulation and adequate illustration, of forty-five anomalous human back-bones which, with one exception, were obtained during many years spent by the author in the dissecting-room of the Harvard Medical School. In the introductory portion of the work the author discusses Rosenberg's methods and well-known theory of “concomitant variations,” based on the appreciation of a tendency of the cervical and lumbar regions of the column to absorb into themselves the thoracic, with change progressive and retrogressive at the opposite ends of this. Accepting, without proof, the theory that the human ilium enters into relation with different vertebræ during development, the author passes on to the consideration of irregular segmentation, and a discussion of the views of Baur, Bateson and others on inter and ex-calation, deferring the latter author's theory of “homæosis” for consideration in the body of the work. He finally denies the existence of a precise number of lumbar vertebra, and finds refuge in Welcker's theory of the vertebra fuleralis. With this as a determining factor he largely deals, and the most interesting portion of his memoir is that in which he shows it to be the twenty-fourth vertebra in each of seven examples lacking one of the praesacral series. He classifies his specimens into classes, and clearly, systematically formulates the individual spines of each, and deals in some cases with correlated modification of the spinal nerves. Arguing that the “essential part of the office of the spine is to form the median support of the trunk,” he deduces what he terms a “vitalistic conception,” viz., that parts in corresponding situations exhibit a tendency to develop in a corresponding manner; and in finally discussing Rosenberg's view, he remarks that its success has been largely due to the fact that “it fitted in so perfectly with the doctrine of descent by gradual modifications,” and gives as his opinion that, “unfortunately for science,” it has “become too much the custom to make everything square with this.”

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