Morton Collection of Skulls at Center of Controversy

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Media Contact:Pam Kosty | | 215-898-4045June 8, 2011

The scientific integrity of one 19th century Philadelphia scientist has been reaffirmed—but at the decided expense of a prominent late 20th century scientist who had discredited him.

Such was the conclusion reached by a group of anthropologists working collaboratively to re-examine, and perform anew, scientific measurements on a famous collection of nearly 1,000 skulls from around the world, the "American Golgotha" collected and studied by Philadelphia physician Samuel George Morton (1799-1851). Today, much of the collection resides at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia, where members of the anthropology team performed their analyses.

The team was responding to accusations made by Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), prominent evolutionary biologist and science historian, who charged, first in a 1978 Science paper and later in The Mismeasure of Man (1981), that Morton had selectively reported data, manipulated sample compositions, made analytical errors, and mismeasured skulls in order to support his prejudicial views on intelligence differences between human groups.

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Controversial skull gets a new spin, Philadelphia Inquirer

Scientists Measure the Accuracy of a Racism Claim, New York Times

Stephen Jay Gould mismeasured skulls in racial records dispute, USA Today coverage