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Philly Museum Offers Human Skulls For 'Adoption' As Lovely Holiday Gifts

This holiday season, what could show a beloved friend of family member that you care, better than — a human skull? Well, the answer probably depends on the friend or family member. Maybe if your family is the Manson family, the Adopt-a-Skull program offered this season by Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum could be for you.

Actually, the skulls are historical and scientific artifacts, part of the museum’s Hyrtl Skull Collection. A donation of $200 earns you your name on a plaque next the skull in the museum’s display case for the next year, as well as a photo of your own, special adopted skull.

The Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia was established in 1858 as a place to preserve and study medical oddities and unusual specimens. In addition to the Hyrtl Skull Collection, the museum at 19 South 22nd St. in Philadelphia, Pa., is home to a cancerous tumor removed from the mouth of U.S. President Grover Cleveland, tissue from the thorax of John Wilkes Booth, a collection of preserved human fetuses and many other strange, yet strangely fascinating artifacts of medical history.

The skull collection was assembled by 19th-century Viennese scientist Josef Hyrtl, who was intent on debunking the then-science of phrenology, which was the study of describing and judging human mental abilities and moral character by the shape of one’s skull, and also the difference in skull shape between races “proved” the superiority of white people.

Phrenology soon passed into the realm of quackery, but in Hyrtl’s time it was taken with extreme seriousness. But Hyrtl believed — correctly, as it turned out — that the so-called “science” was nonsense.

“By collecting predominantly Caucasian skulls, he showed the vast degree of variation,” said museum Curator Anna Dhody. Hyrtl demonstrated that skull shape was essentially meaningless, because there is a massive variation in skull shape even within ethnic groups and races.

But now the Hyrtl Collection is endangered. After sitting in museum shelves for more than a century, the skulls are starting to crack and lose teeth.

“They need help,” Dhody said. “They need saving.”

That’s where the Adopt-a-Skull program comes in. Just in time for gift-giving season. View the catalog of available skulls here.

SOURCES: The Express-Tribune,, Mutter Museum, Wikipedia


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