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Skeleton with phrenological skull, Europe, 1801-1900

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In the 1800s, phrenology became popular with large numbers of people but soon became controversial within medical circles. Phrenologists believed that the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. Phrenologists also disagreed among themselves, as is demonstrated by this skull. One half of the head shows the system according to Franz Joseph Gall (1758 –1828), a German physician and founder of phrenology, and the other half shows the system favoured by his colleague, Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832). The labels are written in French.

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Glossary: human remains

term created as part of the NMSI human remains policy (from April 2007); Other terms used are 'blood' and 'human hair'

Glossary: skeleton

The bones or bony framework of an animal body considered as a whole; also, more generally, the harder (supporting or covering) constituent part of an animal organism.

Glossary: phrenology

The study of the bumps on the outside of the skull in order to determine a person's character. It was based on the mistaken theory that the skull becomes modified according to the size of different parts of the brain.