Paper - The external characters of an Australian foetus (1933)

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Wood-Jones F. The external characters of an Australian foetus. (1933) J Anat. 67: 549-54. PMID 17104446

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This historic 1933 paper by Wood-Jones describes fetal development.

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The External Characters of an Australian Foetus

By Frederic Wood-Jones


The specimen described here was presented to the Anatomical Museum of Melbourne University by the late Sir Baldwin Spencer in 1912. By him it was obtained at Port Darwin; and if it be not now, as its original label described it— “probably the only one in existence””—it is certainly one of no more than two or three that have ever been preserved.

Fig. 1. Female Australian foetus from Port Darwin.

The preservation is not perfect; some degree of maceration of the superficial tissues had evidently taken place before the foetus was hardened with 550 Frederic Wood-J ones

formalin, but this does not materially interfere with a satisfactory investigation of all the essential external characters. The foetus is a female and both from the general state of development and from body measurements may be taken as being at about the 17th or 18th week of intra-uterine life.

Measurements. In the following tables of measurements and indices I have included for comparison those of a Portuguese foetus slightly larger and those of a Chinese-Hawaiian slightly smaller. The measurements of this comparative material were taken during the routine examination of foetuses of various races at the University of Hawaii.

Table of measurements

Australian ChineseMeasurement aboriginal Portuguese Hawaiian Suprasternale—symphysion 70 82 67 Symphysion—umbilicus 15 — _— Vertex—sole . 240 260 198 Vertex—coccyx 162 - 178 136 Total fore-limb 123 112 84 Arm 45 46 36 Forearm 43 35 27 Hand 35 31 21 Total hind-limb 117 108 82 Thigh 55 51 36 Leg 51 46 35 To sole of foot il 11 1l Width of shoulders 61 73 58 Table of indices

Australian Chinese aboriginal Portuguese Hawaiian Arm and forearm 126 99 94

Trunk length Upper extremity 176 136 125 Trunk length

Thigh and leg 151 118 106 “Trunk length Lower extremity 22 —“Trank length — 167 131 1 Arm and forearm Leg and thigh 83 83 88 Upper extremity Lower extremity 105 104 102

From an examination of these measurements and indices it is at once apparent that the great relative length of the limbs, which characterises the adult Australian aborigine, is already well established at this early stage. Moreover, it is manifest that though the limbs are of abnormal length, the upper extremity/lower extremity ratio remains normal. It will be noticed that while both fore-limb and hind-limb of the Australian foetus are considerably longer than the corresponding members of the larger Portuguese foetus, the intermembral index is practically the same in the two cases. The External Characters of an Australian Foetus 551

Fig. 3. Hair tracts of the posterior surface of head and neck.

Fig. 2. Distribution of hair tracts and deep pigment on the back.

Fig. 5. The form of the left ear and the hair tracts.

Fig. 4. Hair tracts of the face. 552 Frederic Wood-Jones

Fig. 6. Characters of the face.

Fig. 7. Left hand, palmar aspect.

Fig. 8. Sole of left foot. Fig. 9. The external genitalia. The External Characters of an Australian Foetus 553

Pigmentation. The foetus has been preserved in formalin and subsequently transferred to spirit and glycerine. After its 20 years’ immersion in formalin its coloration differs but little from that of a formalin-preserved white foetus of a similar stage of development. It is rather more yellow than is usual in the case of the European foetus, and though the lips are obviously dusky, the external genitalia remain of the ordinary body colour.

The deep pigment system, which has received the varying names of “mongolian mark,” “kinderfleck,” “tache pigmentaire,” “tache blue,” and many others, is well developed. The deep pigment is present as scattered blotches disposed along the vertebral column from the sacral to the interscapular region, one large patch being situated somewhat asymmetrically between the scapulae (see fig. 2). Thé so-called Mongolian mark was first observed in babies of the “primordial tribes of North Celebes” by Dr J. G. F. Reidal of Batavia. By him its discovery was communicated to Charles Darwin in a letter written 30 June, 1875. Many years later it was recorded in Japanese infants, and it has since been noted in Chinese (Matigon), Annamites, Siamese and Koreans (Chemin), Malays (Kohlbrugge), Filippinos (Colliquon), Javanese (ten Kate and Baumgarten), the Hovas of Madagascar (Fontoynont), and the Esquimaux of Greenland and Alaska (Hansen, Nansen, Saabye). It is present in Samoans, Hawaiians, Tahitians, Marquesans and Maoris. The American Indians also show the mark and it has been recorded in infants from British Columbia, California, Mexico (Herman), Central America (Starr), Ecuador (Rivet), Peru, Brazil and the Argentine as well as in the Patagonians (LehmannNietsche). Among Europeans it has been noted in Bulgars (Wateff) and rarely among Germans (Adachi), Austrians (Epstein, Sperck), and Italians (Menabuoni). In negroes and negro mixtures it has been recorded in ‘America by Bannerman, although it has, apparently, not been observed in negroes in Africa. It is here recorded for the first time in the Australian foetus.

Hair and hair tracts. Hair is well developed upon the scalp and face and the down hairs are visible on all parts of the body. The hair of the scalp is dark brown, but on the face is, in the preserved foetus, of a distinctly reddish colour. The eyebrows and eyelashes are remarkably well developed, individual hairs of the eyebrows being 8 mm. in length, whilst many of the eyelashes reach 5mm. The hair tracts are recorded in figs. 2, 3, 4 and 5, and they need no description beyond the statement that they are those of a typical and simple human type.

The facial features. The face of the foetus is unmistakably that of an Australian aborigine. The nasal breadth (I.A.) and nasal height (I.A.) measurements are practically equal. The features are sufficiently well shown in figs. 1 and 6.

The ear exhibits none of those features that have been described as “ pithecoid” (Howard Ayers et alia). The apex auriculae is not so well marked as is common in white foetuses, and its site is most clearly indicated by the apical hair point (see fig. 5).

The hand shows a digital formula The thumb is well developed,

- its tip reaching almost to the middle crease line of the index finger. The crease lines of the palm are normal human, as opposed to pithecoid, in type. The free margins of the nails are well marked (see fig. 7).

The foot has a digital formula of Contrasted with the nails of the fingers those of the toes are mere rudiments, being only apparent as small crescentic thickenings with no free edges (see fig. 8).

The external genitalia are of such basal simplicity and illustrate so well the normal disposition to which I have previously called attention (see this Journal, vol. XLVI, p. 78; vol. xLrx, p. 393; vol. L, p. 1, etc.) that it has been thought well to figure them (see fig. 9).

The outer genital folds extend from the pubic region to the sides of the anus, enclosing between them an elongated depression which is limited posteriorly by a well-marked ridge behind the anus. The genital tubercle is prominent and cleft, the margins of its cleavage (inner genital folds) forming the lateral boundaries of the urogenital depression. The opening of the vagina is situated very far back and the hymen is unusually deeply situated. The glans is not yet sculptured from the apical portion of the genital tubercle.

Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2021, October 22) Embryology Paper - The external characters of an Australian foetus (1933). Retrieved from

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