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Scanning the History of Medicine: Manikin Style

Post contributed by Rachel Ingold, Curator of the History of Medicine Collections

Human anatomical maniken showing internal organs
Ivory maniken in the History of Medicine Collection.

An engineer, conservator, and curator walk into a small space; a small space with a micro CT chamber surrounded by rooms that glow red with biohazards signs. What are they doing? Where could they be?

First a bit of background. The History of Medicine Collections here in the Rubenstein Library has a large collection of ivory anatomical manikins. In total, we have 22 ivory manikins, part of the Josiah Charles Trent Collection that was gifted to the University in 1956.

Scan of ivory maniken produced by Duke’s Micro CT scanner.

To say these ivory anatomical manikins are cool is an understatement. They are truly fascinating and beautiful. And a bit mysterious. Scholars are not entirely clear on why they were created or their intent, which likely evolved over time. The delicate figures in our holdings average about eight inches in length and were probably initially used for instructional purposes, to help medical students learn human anatomy. But how easy were they to use? Did the didactic intent fall by the wayside as these turned into collectibles? We speculate these were carved in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, but we’re not entirely sure.

With so much interest in the ivory anatomical manikins and so much to learn, we considered what it would take to digitize these to share with a wider audience. Last April, we began to scan these items using Micro CT scanning in Duke’s Shared Materials Instrumentation Facility (SMiF) – a magical space with lots of heavy equipment (and some rooms that glow red – although not the room where these are scanned).

Scanning the ivory manikins has been a true team effort with much assistance from our friends in Conservation and Justin Gladman, an engineer working in SMiF.  We hope to complete scanning by the summer and turn to focusing on processing and uploading files to a site for the world to see. And yes, once this is done, they can be 3D printed. !!!! Stay tuned as we continue to move forward with our project. You can read more on Duke Today and the Preservation Underground Blog.

Computer image of the front of the maniken.
Scan of ivory maniken.

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