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Skeleton with phrenological skull, Europe, 1801-1900

Phrenologists believed that the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. In the early nineteenth century, phrenology became popular with large numbers of ordinary people who were interested in self-improvement. It was, however, always controversial in medical circles. Phrenologists also disagreed among themselves, as is demonstrated by the skull on display; one half of the head shows the system according to Franz Joseph Gall (1758 –1828 ), a German physician, the inventor of phrenology, and the other half that according to his colleague, Johann Kaspar Spurzheim (1809 –72). The labels are written in French. The skeleton is a human skeleton articulated into position using metal and leather.

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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.