Layers Upon Layers!!!
If you’re like me and Brendan (may the FSM have mercy on your soul) you no doubt, notice the cool Google doodle the other day. I had no idea who Steno was until I did some surfing on the intertubes. Not only did he first propose the idea of geological stratification (the thing that allows us to understand the vast majority of things that happened before we arrived) but he also had some other incredibly profound discoveries:
First he noted that much of the internal anatomy of this shark was very similar to that of an egg-laying ray that he had previously dissected. Then he went on to muse about the nature of ‘generation’ in oviparous and viviparous animals, before coming to this amazing conclusion:
‘having seen that the testicles of viviparous animals contain eggs and having noticed that their uterus opened into the abdomen like an oviduct, I have no doubt that the testicles of women are analogous to the ovary, whatever the manner the eggs themselves, or the matter that they contain, pass from the testicles to the uterus.’
‘The testicles of women are analogous to the ovary’: in other words, women have eggs. This amazing statement – almost a throwaway comment in a brief section on sharks – was the start of our modern understanding of both human reproduction, and on the essential unity of the animal kingdom.
Over the next couple of years, Steno found ovaries in deer, guinea pigs, badgers, wolves, asses and mules, but he never published anything further on the question.
Four years later, two of Steno’s old student friends, Jan Swammerdam and Reinier de Graaf, were slugging it out in public over who had been the first to discover that women have eggs – Swammerdam did some neat dissections, de Graaf did some neater experiments. The Royal Society of London was called in to adjudicate the matter. It took them so long that by the time they issued their verdict, de Graaf was dead, and Swammerdam and Steno had both become obsessed with religion (Swammerdam went all mystic, Steno became a devout Catholic and ended up a bishop; both men abandoned science because of their beliefs). And the Royal Society rightly gave the credit to Steno – the man who discovered that women have eggs.
Google’s special graphics are always such a nice treat. They usually lead me to some information of which I was previously wholly oblivious, plus they just look hella-cool. —Uncle Eb/John