The Morton Cranial Collection was acquired by Dr. Samuel George Morton during the 1830s and 1840s. After his death, the collection was purchased by the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia where it continued to grow under the curatorship of Dr. James Aitken Meigs. The collection fell into obscurity by the early 20th century until it was relocated to the Penn Museum in 1966. Since then, it has increasingly attracted scholarly attention and has been actively studied, researched, and published.
Morton (1799-1851) played a major role in administrating the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (ANSP) during the early 19th century. He is now best known for his collection of human skulls, currently curated at the Penn Museum.2 Morton stated that he began to collect human skulls in 1830, after he was preparing a lecture on “the form of the skull as seen in the five races of men,” but found that such skulls “could neither be bought nor borrowed.”3 However, one of Morton’s medical colleagues recalled seeing skulls in Morton’s office not long after Morton began his medical practice in the early 1820s.4
By 1849, Morton reported that he had acquired 867 human skulls through “much time toil and expense.”5 This was not his own physical toil, however. Morton relied on friends and colleagues to acquire skulls and ship them to him.6 He had made many professional connections during the 1820s and 1830s when he was quite active with the ANSP, serving as its recording secretary, curator, and corresponding secretary.7 In 1840, 1844, and 1849, Morton published catalogues which listed each skull in his collection at that time, including both human and animal skulls. When Morton received a skull, he assigned it an ID number. In some instances, he recorded the date when the skull was acquired, as well as the racial or ethnic grouping of the skull, and what information his supplier sent Morton about the location from which the skull derived.
From 1831 until Morton’s death in 1851, the skulls in Morton’s collection were housed in the ANSP, although they were his personal property. In 1852, William Ruschenberger (1807-1895) inventoried the ANSP collection and noted that in the “cases on the south flying-gallery there are 968 human crania” of which “918, constitute the collection deposited by the late Dr. Morton.”8 However, once Morton died his associates at the ANSP were not sure what to do with these skulls. The ANSP’s collections curator, Joseph Leidy (1823-1891) was “urged to continue Morton’s work, but declined.”9 There is evidence that two years after Morton died, the ANSP was considering selling the collection. A March 3, 1853 dairy entry written by Harvard University Medical School’s first dean, John Collins Warren (1778-1856), reads “At the Natural-History Society, it was agreed to send Dr. Kneeland to Philadelphia to make the purchase of Dr. Morton’s collection of Crania. Dr. Bernard, a member, offered to take upon himself the responsibility of the two thousand dollars.”10 In 1854, Patterson wrote that 42 “liberal citizens” of Philadelphia pooled their funds and purchased Morton’s skulls for $4,000, presumably paid to his widow.11
Circa 1854, the curation of Morton’s collection was assigned to J. Aitkin Meigs (1829-1879), who would go on to become a leading Philadelphia physician associated with Pennsylvania College, the Franklin Institute, and Jefferson Medical College.12 Meigs was a member of the ANSP for 27 years, and his biographer noted that in 1854 he was “elected a member of the Academy's Standing Committee on Ethnology, and in 1857 became its Chairman and held the position until the committee was finally abolished in 1876.”13 This passage indirectly indicates that by 1876, the ANSP was no longer interested in studying human racial variation. However, during his curatorship, Meigs conducted some research on the skulls. In 1857, he published an updated catalog of the skulls in the Morton collection, which by then had increased by 67 skulls and was located in “16 cases on the first gallery of the south side of the lower room of the museum.”14
Through much of the remainder of the 19th century, the crania were displayed, occasionally studied, and photographed as early as the 1890s at the ANSP. By the mid-20th century, many of the crania were off display. In 1966, the ANSP transferred a loan of the Morton collection to the Penn Museum, under the curatorship of physical anthropologist Dr. Wilton M. Krogman. Later, the curatorship was transferred to Dr. Alan E. Mann, then Dr. Janet M. Monge. In the 1990s, the collection was gifted to the Penn Museum.
From 2004 to 2011, the Penn Museum was awarded a National Science Foundation grant (DBI/BIO-0447271) to CT scan the Samuel Morton Collection of crania. 4,215 museum osteological specimens at the Penn Museum and in coordination with our 12 partner institutions, were scanned, including 1,355 crania from the Morton Collection. The scans and the database generated for use in many research areas can be viewed at the ORSA ORSA (Open-Research-Scan-Archive). A complete list of the Morton specimens is available on this site. As of March 2018, over 15,000 CT scans have been distributed to scholars around the world. Often researchers use both the actual crania together with CT scans in their research agenda.
Some recent research topics using collections and their associated CT scans are
- The function and shape differences in the maxillary and frontal sinuses.
- Early synchondrosis of cranial sutures (premature closure of the sutures of the skull) effecting skull shape and form from childhood to adulthood.
- Atherosclerosis in the ancient world associated with diet and lifestyle.
- Population differences in the shape and form of the skull for forensic science.
- Non-metric features of the skull associated with ancestry.
- The evolution of the cerebral cortex shape in human evolution.
- Patterns of trauma on the skull.
- Cranial shape differences between chimpanzees and humans.
- Changes in the dentition and shape of the jaws in pre-industrial and industrial populations resulting in modern human malocclusion.
- Assessment of dental development differences in childhood between human populations in the ancient and modern world.
- Was Homo florensiensis a microcephalic?
Funds from this NSF grant were used to expand on the production of CT scans of the Penn Museum collections of human, primate, and mammal bones/teeth and mummified remains and to make these scans available freely to the worldwide research community. The use of CT scans has become a primary research tool in the analysis of modern human variation and in the analysis of the emergence of modernity within the human evolutionary lineage. In addition to the free access to these virtual collections, a series of tools have been developed. These tools include complex geometry, geometric morphometric, and non-rigid deformation analysis, for the analysis of the raw data derived from the scans (in conjunction with the Penn Image Computing and Science Laboratory, Department of Radiology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania). By 2018, 4,215 scans were completed in collaboration with 12 contributing institutions, 112 researchers, and 27 collaborating scholars. The program trained 15 graduate students and 11 undergraduates (7 of whom moved into professional training programs) in both scanning and analysis techniques.
A world-wide listing of researchers using the Morton Collection from 2008 to 2018 (alphabetically listed by last name):
- Sheela Athreya, Texas A&M University
- Aubrey Baagsgaard, University of Pennsylvania
- Antoine Balzeau, Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, Musee del'Homme, France
- Jacqui Bowman, Mutter Museum, College of Physicians of Philadelphia
- Jose Braga, Laboratoire AMIS, University of Toulouse, CNRS, France
- Markus Bastir, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid, Spain
- Kevin Boyd, Dentistry for Children and Families, Chicago
- Emiliano Bruner, Centro Nacional de Investigacien sobre Evolucion Humana (CENIEH), Burgos, Spain
- Lauren Butaric, Florida Atlantic University
- Abigail Campbell, Princeton University
- Elise Chong, Princeton University
- Erin Coward, New Mexico State University
- Samantha Cox, University of Pennsylvania
- Caitlin Dardenne, University of Pennsylvania
- D'Angelo del Campo, Centro Nacional de Investigacion sobre Evolucion Humana (CENIEH), Burgos, Spain
- Jose Manuel de la Cuetara, Centro Nacional de Investigacien sobre Evolucien Humana (CENIEH), Burgos, Spain
- Valerie Burke DeLeon, University of Florida
- Fabrice Demeter, Laboratoire AMIS, University of Toulouse, CNRS, France
- Anna Dhody, Mutter Museum, College of Physicians of Philadelphia
- David DiPaola, University of Pennsylvania
- Peter Dodson, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine
- Manuel Domingo, Centro Nacional de Investigacien sobre Evolucion Humana (CENIEH), Burgos, Spain
- Jean Dumoncel, Laboratoire AMIS, University of Toulouse, CNRS, France
- Jeff Dunn, Friends of the San Jacinto Battleground, Texas
- Daniel Eckels, Princeton University
- Robert Eckhardt, Penn State University
- Mollie Epstein, University of Pennsylvania
- Marianna Evans, University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine
- Ann Fabian, Rutgers University
- Dean Falk, Florida State University
- David Frayer, University of Kansas
- Carissa Fu, Princeton University
- Julia Galway-Witham, University College London, UK
- Pamela Geller, University of Miami
- Gilles Gesquiere, Laboratoire des Sciences de l'Information et des Systemes (LSIS), IUT de l'Universite de Provence, Arles Cedex, France
- Lauren Gonzales, Duke University
- Rolando Gonzalez-Jose, Centro Nacional Patagonico – CONICET, Argentina
- Allison Gremba, University of Pittsburgh
- Osnur Gulhan, University of Pennsylvania
- Ashley Hammond, Florida Atlantic University
- John Hawks, University of Wisconsin
- Cheryl Hill, Penn State University
- Shawn Hurst, Indiana University
- Richard Jantz, University of Tennessee
- Wandile Kasibe, University of Cape Town, South Africa
- Whitney Karriger, Tulane University
- Anna Kubicka, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland
- Benjamin Kozyak, University of Pennsylvania, HUP Craniofacial Surgery
- Benjamin Laitman, University of Pennsylvania
- Clark Larsen, Ohio State University
- Carlos Lorenzo Merino, Area de Prehistoria, Universitat Rovira I Virgili (URV), Avinguda de Catalunya 35, Tarragona, Spain
- Scott Maddux, University of North Texas
- Murat Maga, University of Washington
- Hannah Marsh, University of Iowa
- Robert C. McCarthy, Florida Atlantic University
- Paul Wolff Mitchell, University of Pennsylvania
- Kathryn Moss, University of Houston
- Melinda Nelson-Hurst, Tulane University
- Allison Nesbitt, Stony Brook University
- Simon Neubauer, Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany
- Christina Nicholas, University of Iowa
- Pooneh Nik, Academy of Art University in San Francisco
- Douglas Owsley, Smithsonian Institution
- Nana Owusu-Nyantekyi, Princeton University
- Connie Parks, FBI Laboratory Division, Counterterrorism and Forensic Science Research Unit
- Jeanne Marie Kelly Parsons, The New School for Design, New York
- Alannah Pearson, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
- Veronica Pereda-Loth, Laboratoire AMIS, University of Toulouse, CNRS, France
- Noemi Perez-Lopez, Area de Prehistoria, Universitat Rovira I Virgili (URV), Avinguda de Catalunya 35, Tarragona, Spain
- Stephanie Perl, Princeton University
- Stephen Phillips, Egyptian Section, Penn Museum
- Lenore Pipes, Swarthmore College
- Joshua Polanski, University of Iowa
- Laura Porro, University of Chicago
- Eva Maria Poza, Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Madrid, Spain
- Sylvain Prima, French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA), France
- Antonio Profico, Sapeinza Universita di Roma. Italy
- James Reed, Grand Valley State University
- Emily Renschler, University of Pennsylvania
- Jill Rhodes, Bryn Mawr College
- Isabelle Ribot, University of Montreal
- Alan Richter, University of Pennsylvania
- Sarah Ricklan, Columbia University
- Jordi Rivera-Prince, University of Pennsylvania
- Jackie Robb, University of Utah
- Ann Ross, North Carolina State University
- Paul Roy, Arius3D, Toronto, Canada
- Neal Rubinstein, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
- Paul Sanborn, University of Pennsylvania
- Caitlin Schrein, Arizona State University
- Page Selinsky, University of Pennsylvania
- Roger Seymour, University of Adelaide, Australia
- Michael Speirs, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine
- Mark Spencer, Arizona State University
- Ekaterina Stansfield, University of York, UK
- Hansell Stedman, University of Pennsylvania, HUP Craniofacial Surgery
- Gerard Subsol, ICAR Project, LIRMM, Montpellier, France
- Adam P. Summers, University of California, Irvine
- Randall Thompson, University of Missouri School of Medicine
- Kristina Venezuela, Princeton University
- Catalina Villamil, University of Pennsylvania
- Brian Villmoare, University of Nevada
- William Watson, Immaculata University
- Michael Weisberg, University of Pennsylvania
- Amber Wheat, University of Tennessee
- Shanna Williams, University of Florida
- Lauren Winkler, University of Pennsylvania
- Michael Yudell, Drexel University
- Matthew Zdilla, West Liberty University
Selected technical publications using CT scans of the Morton Collection
Avants, B., J.C. Gee, P.T. Schoenemann, J. Monge, J.E. Lewis, and R.L. Holloway. “A new method for assessing endocast morphology: calculating local curvature from 3D CT images,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, v.126, 2005, (S)67.
Baadsgaard, A., J. Monge, R. Zettler, and S. Cox. “Human sacrifice and intentional corpse preservation at the Royal Cemetery of Ur,” Antiquity, v.85, 2011, 27-42.
Bastir, M., A. Rosas, D.E. Lieberman, and P. O’Higgins. “Middle Cranial Fossa Anatomy and the Origin of Modern Humans,” The Anatomical Record, v.291, 2008, 130-140.
Butaric, L.N., R.C. McCarthy, and D.C. Broadfield. “A preliminary 3D computed tomography study of the human maxillary sinus and nasal cavity,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, v.143, 2010, 426-436.
Holloway, R.L., J. Monge, and P.T. Schoenemann. “The Hobbit Brain: some questions about its derived features,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, v.141, 2010, (S)130.
Holloway, R.L., J. Monge, and P.T. Schoenemann. “The LB1 endocast: un-adorned, un-smoothed, a replication study based on the original CT scan data,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, v.144, 2011, (S)165-166.
Monge, J., P.T. Schoenemann, J.E. Lewis, and L.D. Glotzer. “The CT Database at the University of Pennsylvania Museum,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, v.123, 2004, (S)149.
Prima, S., R. Holloway, G. Subsol, B. Combes, P.T. Schoenemann, J. Braga, and J. Monge. “New 3D automatic methods for the analysis of the endocranial shape and its relationship with ectocranial structures: assessment and preliminary experiments,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, v.144, 2011, (S)243-244.
Schoenemann, P.T., J.C. Gee, B.B. Avants, R.L. Holloway, J. Monge, and J.E. Lewis. “Validation of plaster endocast morphology through 3D CT image analysis,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, v.132, 2007, 183-192.
Schoenemann, P.T., R.L. Holloway, B.B. Avants, and J.C. Gee. “Endocast asymmetry in pongids assessed via non-rigid deformation analysis of high-resolution CT images,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 2008, (S)187-188.
Schoenemann, P.T., R.L. Holloway, J. Monge, B.B. Avants, and J.C. Gee. “Differences in endocranial shape between Homo and Pongids assessed through non-rigid deformation analysis of high-resolution CT images,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, v.144, 2011, (S)265-266.
Schoenemann, P.T., J. Monge, B.B. Avants, and J.C. Gee. “An atlas of modern human cranial morphology constructed via non-rigid deformation analysis of high-resolution CT images,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, v.138, 2009, (S)231.
Schoenemann, P.T., J. Monge, B.B. Avants, and J.C. Gee. “Creating statistical atlases of modern primate endocranial morphology using non-rigid deformation analysis of high-resolution CT images,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, v.141, 2010, (S)208-209.
Schoenemann, P.T., J. Monge, B.B. Avants, L.D. Glotzer; and J.C. Gee. “Sex differences in cranial form assessed via non-rigid deformation analysis of high-resolution CT images,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 2007, (S)209.
Schoenemann, P.T., J. Monge, L.D. Glotzer, and M. Campana. “The open research CT scan archive,” British Institute of Radiology Newsletter, v. Spring 2008, 13-15.