Don’t get all self-conscious, but your body is strange-looking. At least it is at a microscopic level. In his new book, John Clancy zooms in on our organs, compiling more than 300 images of the human body snapped at high magnification. They look amazing — but not particularly human. At times, leafing through the book feels like paging through images of deep-sea exploration. The rod and cone structures in our eyes and the cilia in our throats resemble the flora that sprout up on a coral reef. At 300x magnification, hair follicles seem like the sci-fi version of a redwood forest. The deeper we go, the more abstract it gets. Lymph vessels, which drain tissue fluid into the bloodstream, become a complex tangle of roots and brambles. At 1,250x magnification, nerve cells have the dots, swirls and seemingly random smatterings of a Jackson Pollock painting. And it’s all right there, inside us.
Standing tall near the entrance to the U.S. National Library of Medicine in Bethesda is a 20-foot totem pole. Carved by Jewell Praying Wolf James of the Lummi Indian Nation of the Pacific Northwest, it was erected last week to inaugurate an exhibit called “Native Voices: Native Peoples’ Concepts of Health and Illness.” The library, part of the National Institutes of Health, created the exhibition with the help of indigenous groups throughout the United States. Using oral histories, cultural artifacts and interactive media, the exhibit examines such topics as the importance of ceremonies, the “pre-Captain Cook diet” of Pacific islanders, native views of land and food, the lethal epidemics of European disease and the relationship of traditional healing with Western medicine. A timeline points out, among other surprises, that while most early cultures understood anatomy only from examining the remains of animals, the Unangan people, who lived 12,000 years ago on the Aleutian Islands, dissected the bodies of their enemies and slaves, learning skills that enabled them, for example, to suture wounds. The free exhibit will be at the library for about two years and then will travel to museums around the United States.