To study human evolution, researchers sometimes use microstructures found in human teeth and their knowledge of the processes by which those structures grow. Human fetusus begin to develop teeth in utero. As teeth grow, they form a hard outer substance, called enamel, through a process called amelogenesis. During amelogenesis, incremental layers of enamel form in a Circadian rhythm. This rhythmic deposition leaves the enamel with microstructures, called cross-striations and striae of Retzius, which have a regular periodicity. Because enamel is not renewed throughout life like other tissues, teeth preserve the timing and details of a person's growth and development. Thus, enamel microstructures, from living people and from fossilized teeth, can be used to reconstruct the growth, development, and life histories of current and past humans. Researchers can also compare current and fossilized microstructures to trace changes in those traits over the course of human evolution.
Georges Cuvier, baptized Georges Jean-Leopold Nicolas-Frederic Cuvier, was a professor of anatomy at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France, through the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Scholars recognize Cuvier as a founder of modern comparative anatomy, and as an important contributor to vertebrate paleontology and geology. Cuvier studied the form and function of animal anatomy, writing four volumes on quadruped fossils and co-writing eleven volumes on the natural history of fish with Achille Valenciennes. Moreover, Cuvier constructed a system of classification based on specific and well-articulated principles to help anatomists classify animal taxa. Cuvier had public debate in 1830 with Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, a dispute centered on whether form or function matters most for the study of anatomy and whether the transmutation of organic forms can occur over time. Cuvier's opinions influenced the development of biology in France, and his arguments against transmutation of types influenced the reception of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection among many French naturalists.
The biogenetic law is a theory of development and evolution proposed by Ernst Haeckel in Germany in the 1860s. It is one of several recapitulation theories, which posit that the stages of development for an animal embryo are the same as other animals' adult stages or forms. Commonly stated as ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, the biogenetic law theorizes that the stages an animal embryo undergoes during development are a chronological replay of that species' past evolutionary forms. The biogenetic law states that each embryo's developmental stage represents an adult form of an evolutionary ancestor. According to the law, by studying the stages of embryological development, one is, in effect, studying the history and diversification of life on Earth. The biogenetic law implied that researchers could study evolutionary relationships between taxa by comparing the developmental stages of embryos for organisms from those taxa. Furthermore, the evidence from embryology supported the theory that all of species on Earth share a common ancestor.
In 1828, while working at the University of Konigsberg in Konigsberg, Germany Karl Ernst von Baer proposed four laws of animal development, which came to be called von Baer's laws of embryology. With these laws, von Baer described the development (ontogeny) of animal embryos while also critiquing popular theories of animal development at the time. Von Baer's laws of embryology provided a framework to research the relationships and patterns between the development of different classes of organisms, and the patterns between this development and the diversification of species on Earth (phylogeny).
In eighteenth century Germany, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach studied how individuals within a species vary, and to explain such variations, he proposed that a force operates on organisms as they develop. Blumenbach used metrical methods to study the history of humans, but he was also a natural historian and theorist. Blumenbach argued for theories of the transformation of species, or the claim that new species can develop from existing forms. His theory of Bildungstrieb (formative drive), a developmental force within all organisms, influenced the conceptual debates among many late nineteenth and early twentieth century embryologists and naturalists.
Friedrich Tiedemann studied the anatomy of humans and animals in the nineteenth century in Germany. He published on zoological subjects, on the heart of fish, the anatomy of amphibians and echinoderms, and the lymphatic and respiratory system in birds. In addition to his zoological anatomy, Tiedemann, working with the chemist Leopold Gmelin, published about how the digestive system functioned. Towards the end of his career Tiedemann published a comparative anatomy of the brains of white Europeans, black Africans, and Orangutans, in which he argued that there were no appreciable differences between the structure of the brains of blacks, women, and white European men that would suggest they were intellectually different. Tiedemann also researched the embryonic development of the brain and circulatory systems of human fetuses.
De ovi mammalium et hominis genesi (On the Genesis of the Ovum of Mammals and of Men) is an 1827 pamphlet by Karl Ernst von Baer about the anatomical observation and description of the egg (ovum) of mammals, like dogs and humans. The pamphlet detailed evidence for the existence of the ovum at the beginning of the developmental process in mammals. Prior to von Baer's publication, there was much debate about how organisms develop, as some claimed that organisms grow from a corpuscular element already preformed in the body (preformationism), and others said that organisms developed from a fluid material undergoing a process of progressive formation (epigenesis). Researchers at the time struggled to observe the early stages of development, and those such as von Baer had to observe the phenomenon through microscopes and then provide interpretations of the phenomena they observed.
Johann Friedrich Meckel studied abnormal animal and human anatomy in nineteenth century Germany in an attempt to explain embryological development. During Meckel's lifetime he catalogued embryonic malformations in multiple treatises. Meckel's focus on malformations led him to develop concepts like primary and secondary malformations, atavism, and recapitulation- all of which influenced the fields of medicine and embryology during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.