The Penn Museum is relocating part of the Morton Collection of skulls from a classroom used for study in its Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials to closed storage, acceding to demands by student and community activists.
First reported by the Hyperallergic online art news site, the move, which a museum spokesperson said would be completed before the end of the month, comes as the museum prepares to reopen to the public Tuesday.
In a statement on its website, the museum said it is “actively working towards repatriation or reburial of the crania of enslaved individuals within this collection.”
The collection of about 1,000 skulls was amassed by Samuel George Morton, a 19th century physician who gained celebrity for gathering the collection, but was widely considered a second-class scholar. Nevertheless, according to the museum website, “Morton’s research was taken as proof that Europeans, especially those of German and English ancestry, were intellectually, morally, and physically superior to all other races.” Morton’s own views were “broadly white supremacist.”
The collection first was housed at the Academy of Natural Sciences, where Morton conducted research into paleontology and human skulls. In 1966, it came to the Penn Museum.
A group of Penn students presented a study last year that the collection contained the crania of 53 enslaved individuals from Cuba and two from the United States.
“Given that not much is known about these individuals other than that they came to Morton from Cuba, we are committed to working through this important process with heritage community stakeholders in an ethical and respectful manner,” the museum said.