3 The Catholic Church ordered an autopsy on conjoined infant twins Joana and Melchiora Ballestero in Hispaniola in 1533 [pdf] to determine if they shared a soul. There were two distinct hearts, and hence two souls, based on the ancient Greek philosophy of Empedocles, who believed the soul resided in the heart. The twins’ father, who had grudgingly paid for two baptisms, may have wished for a different outcome.
7 Paduan judge Marcantonio Contarini, obsessed with the anatomical drawings of Andreas Vesalius, endorsed autopsies on executed criminals; they soon became all the rage in the region. Starting in 1539, hangings were scheduled around planned autopsies, which were performed to packed houses in special theaters.
8 In the 17th century, lacking chemical tests (and knowledge of disease transmission mechanisms), Italian physician and autopsist Antonio Valsalva sometimes tasted the fluids he encountered in cadavers in an effort to better characterize them.
16 The precision blades of surgical tools, designed to minimize the risk of accidental cuts, are sometimes shunned in autopsies in favor of cheaper pruning shears—the kind sold in hardware stores.