Friday, December 13, 2013

Lost Head to Skull Collector

The University of Chicago Press has issued a paperback edition of The Skull Collectors, just the type of book Open Grave enjoys.  Author Ann Fabian  reports the collecting habits of Philadelphia physician Samuel George Morton and his 1,000 skulls acquired from around the globe.  Dr. Morton was intent on cataloging racial differences and just might have had a pre-determined outcome in mind.

His work was re-evaluated in 1978 by Stephen Jay Gould who used updated statistical analysis to find the skulls about equal among the five groups Morton identified.  Gould also noted Morton selectively included or excluded specimens and rounded off data.  His analysis was published in The Mismeasure of Man published in 1981 and revised with a new introduction in 1996.

After reading about Samuel Morton's skull-typing work, one possible impulse would be to hasten to the Biodiversity Heritage Library at Internet Archive to read online or download a copy of Crania Americana.

Though Morton's comparative study of the skulls of aboriginal peoples in North and South America is flawed science, at least there are stunning illustrations.

Photograph of a lithograph illustration from Crania Americana.
Photo: University of Pennsylvania Museum 

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