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Macabre heads in jars

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Italy’s Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) was an internationally known psychiatrist and criminologist in the late nineteenth century. Lombroso was also a phrenologist–a believer in the notion, very popular in his day, that the bumps and hollows of a person’s head reveal character and intelligence.

Lombroso amassed phrenological data with the conviction that it could teach him to detect criminal tendencies in people. In the course of his study, Lombroso gathered a large and widely celebrated collection of human heads that he preserved whole in glass jars in his laboratory.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, however, phrenology fell into disfavor, and Lombroso’s theories were no longer considered relevant to criminology. Moreover, public criticism of the professor’s collection mounted because it consisted almost entirely of the heads of poor people and criminals.

Lombroso could not turn the tide of opinion, but he did make a lasting testament to his faith in phrenology. His will dictated that his head be removed, classified, measured, and preserved in beeswax beside the others in his macabre collection. Were these human jack-o-lanterns or Frankensteinian pseudo-science?

Great scientists such as Nicolaus Copernicus, Alfred Russel Wallace, Franz Boas, Mary Leakey, Stephen Jay Gould, Donald Carl Johanson and Neil DeGrasse Tyson have discredited pseudo-sciences such as Creationism, geocentrism, Intelligent Design and phrenology. THE END

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