1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

Digging Up the Dead: Human Skulls as Scientific Fact and Cultural Artifact

This talk begins with a brief visit to the archives of the well-known American naturalist and collector, Samuel George Morton (1799–1851).  When Morton died in 1851, he left his heirs one asset—a collection of around a thousand human skulls.  Medical friends cut up his corpse, trying to see what had killed him.  And his family buried his body in Philadelphia’s new garden cemetery. Morton is known for the part he played in the unhappy field of “scientific racism.”   I explore what it meant for men like Morton to use unburied bodies to construct ideas about human typology, race and diversity.   My research on skull collecting took an unexpected detour into the history of burial practices—a sort of meeting point of cultural and physical anthropology.  I will explore some of the ways the physical study of human remains insists that we reckon as well with cultural and social meanings of burial.

  • Reception follows in Brooks Commons, 1st Floor
    Sponsored by Department of Anthropology




Event Date: 
Friday, 14 September 2012 - 1:00pm to 3:00pm
Ann Fabian
Speaker Title: 
Professor of History and American Studies, Rutgers University