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Yale J Biol Med. 2003;76(2):81-6.

An abbreviated history of the ear: from Renaissance to present.

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  • Bobby R. Alford Department of Otorhinolaryngology and Communicative Sciences, Cochlear Biophysics Laboratory, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.


In this article we discuss important discoveries in relation to the anatomy and physiology of the ear from Renaissance to present. Before the Renaissance, there was a paucity of knowledge of the anatomy of the ear, because of the relative inaccessibility of the temporal bone and the general perception that human dissections should not be conducted. It was not until the sixteenth century that the middle ear was described with detail. Further progress would be made between the sixteenth and eighteenth century in describing the inner ear. In the nineteenth century, technological advancement permitted a description of the cells and structures that constitute the cochlea. Von Helmholtz made further progress in hearing physiology when he postulated his resonance theory and later von Békésy when he observed a traveling wave in human cadavers within the cochlea. Brownell later made a major advance when he discovered that the ear has a mechanism for sound amplification, via outer hair cell electromotility.

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