Hippocampus minor, calcar avis, and the Huxley-Owen debate.Neurosurgery. 2009 Dec; 65(6):1098-104; discussion 1104-5.N
On the bicentennial of Darwin's birth, we describe the origin of the calcar avis and summarize the debate around this structure, which played a central role in the evolution debate in the mid-19th century. We performed a comprehensive review of relevant neuroanatomic literature, bibliographic sources, and 19th century primary sources. Once known as the hippocampus minor, the structure now known as the calcar avis is an involution of the ventricular wall produced by the calcarine fissure. A heated debate raged between 2 prominent scientific theorists, Sir Richard Owen and Thomas Henry Huxley, over the presence of the hippocampus minor in apes versus humans. Owen put forward the lack of an identifiable hippocampus minor in humans as part of an attempt to debunk evolution. A bitter personal and academic rivalry ensued, as Huxley conducted his own dissections to refute Owen's claims. Huxley ultimately dismantled Owen's premises, securing the epithet "Darwin's bulldog" for his defense of the theory of evolution. Thus, this relatively obscure neuroanatomic landmark served as a pivotal point of contention in the most popularized and acrimonious evolutionary debate of the 19th century.