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CRANIOLOGY: The craniology collection in Trinity College, Dublin

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Abstract

Craniology was another 'science' that dealt with the human skull, in this case an attempt to characterise different ethnic groups - human races - by measurements of their skulls, having previously defined fixed anatomical landmarks on its surface. While the American Civil War raged on the issues of slavery in the 1860s, some supporters of slavery in Britain - initially concentrated in the membership of the Anthropological Society of London - attempted to demonstrate that the alleged inferiority of native Black Africans or Australians had a biological foundation, with a reduced cranial capacity, a more acute facial angle, etc. While today we regard this as abhorrent and false, we have come to consider the origin of ethnic groups and of the genetic structure of human populations a legitimate object of scientific study.

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... It was therefore to my complete astonishment that I discovered, by chance from a colleague sitting next to me at an official University function, that Kerr had accumulated and donated to the University, a small craniological collection that has, since about 1908, been held in its Anatomy Museum. The collection is closed to the public and has been only partly studied by DeArce and Gapert (2017). ...
... However distasteful, disrespectful or odd it may now appear, such activity was not then at all unusual. In fact, the entire collection of skulls in the Trinity College Dublin Anatomy museum is small by international standards (Le Musée de l'Homme in Paris had 15,000 skulls according to DeArce & Gapert (2017)) but nevertheless it is the largest in Ireland with over 500 skulls. Some of the skulls date back millennia, others are more recent, and they originate from all over the World, including Ireland. ...
... Case 5. Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, 1700-1900 AD (approximate). The skull is part of the 18th-19th century anatomical collection of Trinity College in Dublin [12]. Most of these skulls were obtained during a period in which skull collection was a popular 'scientific' pastime. ...
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