The 139 skulls in the Hyrtl collection were gathered together by Australian anatomist Joseph Hyrtl in the 19th century, from all over eastern Europe. The collection includes skulls from a broad range of individuals — herdsmen, soldiers and criminals to name just a few — with a wide variety of causes of death — disease and suicide being the most common, with a few gunshot wounds as well. For several, the identity or cause of death (or both) are unknown. The museum recorded this short video in 2010, describing the collection and what it means:
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One of the most noted uses of the collection was its role in the debunking of the pseudoscience known as phrenology. Phrenology did help forward the ideas that the brain was the seat of personality and behaviour, which led to the development of modern neuroscience, but at the same time, it was also based on very flawed concepts and it led to some dangerous and rather racist ideas. Debunking this pseudoscience saved many people from being unfairly labeled and undergoing dangerous and unnecessary procedures simply due to having bumps on their head.
The Hyrtl collection is currently being restored so that it can be put on display again, but in order to do so, the museum needs some help. They've started the Save Our Skulls campaign — an 'adoption' program where someone can sponsor a specific skull for an annual fee of $200. You can choose the skull you want to sponsor (from those that haven't been sponsored yet), and your name will go up along with the skull to note your support.
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If you're interested in supporting the program, either in your own name or someone else's, it continues until December 31st of this year. You can see the skull catalogue, to see what's been adopted and what's available, by clicking here.
(Image courtesy: Mütter Museum/YouTube)
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