The Pee-in-a-Cup Test, circa 1500

Before X-rays and MRIs could peer inside the human body, physicians turned to bodily wastes, particularly urine, in order to make diagnoses. The practice of uroscopy arose from the observation that the color, consistency, smell, and even taste of urine change with different ailments. With a sample of the ailing person’s urine, physicians and laymen alike turned to widely popular illustrations known as urine wheels to make their diagnoses. While some associations were clearly flawed—such as the idea that turbidity could indicate that a woman was not a virgin—in many ways uroscopy paved the way for modern laboratory medicine.

© Center for Manuscript and Rare Books / The Royal Library, Copenhagen
Bubbles in the urine have been known to be a really bad sign since the days of Hippocrates, who took it to be a sign of ailing kidneys. The father of medicine turned out...

Interested in reading more?

Magaizne Cover

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?