Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Craniometry is the technique of measuring the bones of the skull. Craniometry was once intensively practised in anthropology/ethnology and commonly used to support the idea that races differed in intelligence.
Human skulls were classified in dolichocephalous (or dolichocephalic) "having a long skull" and brachycephalous (or brachycephalic) "having a short skull" types. The dolichocephalous "races" were seen to be more advanced than the brachycephalous "primitives".
The origin of craniometry appears to be twofold. Certain artists made measurements of heads and skulls, intending to make representation of the human skeleton more accurate. Bernard de Palissy and Albrecht Dürer were among the pioneers in such researches. The literature of the subject clearly shows that anatomists employed methods of measurement in their study of the human skull. The determining cause of this improvement in method is curious, for it appeared at the end of a famous anatomical controversy of the later Middle Ages, namely the dispute as to whether Galenic anatomy was based on the study of the human body or upon those of apes. In the description of the dissection of a chimpanzee (in 1680) Tyson explains that the measurements he made of the skull of that animal were devised with the intent to show the difference between this and the human skull.
The artists did not carry their researches very far. The anatomists, on the contrary, continued to make measurements, and in 1764 Daubenton published a noteworthy contribution to craniometry. Six years later, Pieter Camper , distinguished both as an artist and as an anatomist, published some lectures containing an account of his craniometrical methods, and these may be fairly claimed as having laid the foundation of all subsequent work. That work has been described above as anthropological, but as the studies thus defined are very varied in extent, it is necessary to consider the subdivisions into which they naturally fall.
In the first place (and omitting further reference to the contributions of artists), it has been explained that the measurements were first made with a view to elucidating the comparison of the skulls of men with those of other animals. This wide comparison constitutes the first subdivision of craniometric studies. It is further remarkable that among the first measurements employed angular determinations occur, and indeed the name of Camper is chiefly perpetuated in anthropological literature by the facial angle invented by that artist-anatomist.
Camper's work followed the lines of 18th century racial theories, where his measurements of facial angle were used to liken the skulls of non-Europeans to those of apes.
In the 19th century the names of notable contributors to the literature of craniometry quickly increased in number. While it is impossible to analyse each contribution, or even record a complete list of the names of the authors, it must be added that for the purposes of far-reaching comparisons of humans to other animals, craniometric methods were used by Paul Pierre Broca in France and by T. H. Huxley in England.
Broca and Huxley cultivated similar comparative racial fields of research, but to these names that of Anders Retzius of Stockholm must be added. The chief claim of Retzius to distinction rests on the merits of his system of comparing various dimensions of the skull, and of a classification based on such comparisons.
The misuse of data obtained from craniometry has been compared to phrenology as a pseudoscience. The apparent scientific support of craniometric theories for racism was used to the support the racist ideologies, and ultimately genocidal policies, of the Nazi party. The uses that racist ideologues and even reputable scientists made of craniometric measurements and conclusions have been thoroughly discussed by Stephen Jay Gould in The Mismeasure of Man (1981).
However, brain volume data and other craniometric data is used in mainstream science to compare modern-day animal species, and to analyze the evolution of the human species in archeology.
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