What shape is your heart?

Heart beat

The human heart is a fist-sized muscle with a rounded bottom, smooth sides, and a thick arch of blood vessels at the top. So how did it come to be represented around the world by the pointy-bottomed, smooth-sided, cleft-topped icon drawn by doodlers, artists, and greeting card makers?

No one really knows. But neurosurgeon turned publishing executive Pierre Vinken has some ideas. In a fascinating little book, The Shape of the Heart, he traces the evolution of the heart's image.

How did this...

become this?

The ancient Egyptians, who believed that a dead person would need the heart in the afterlife, usually embalmed it in a special jar. So in Egyptian hieroglyphics, a jar or urn became the symbol for the heart. Since then, it has been represented as a pine cone, a hazelnut, a pear, a pitcher, and a flaming vase, among others.

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