Brain Full of Buckshot

crania300In the Wild West soldiers could earn a dollar for every American Indian skull they collected.

Skulls were then shipped back east so scientists could study them.

One of the collectors, Samuel G. Morton, used skulls to extrapolate on personality and intelligence. By one account Morton had about 1000 skulls in his bone cellar.

Morton figured the larger the skull, the bigger the brain. Hence, a larger cranium yielded a more intelligent owner.

White European men had the largest skulls.

Morton would measure skull mass by dumping tiny balls of lead called buckshot into the empty noggin. The more buckshot he could empty into a skull, the more brains.

Morton published his views in three volumes of Crania Americana between 1839 and 1849.

American Indians, he reasoned, were characterized by fierceness and immaturity.

“In their mental character the Americans are averse to cultivation, and slow in acquiring knowledge; restless, revengeful, and fond of war…they are crafty, sensual, ungrateful, obstinate and unfeeling.”

Morton concluded this with a measure of buckshot.

Vestiges of such thinking continue today: clearly beliefs about skin color and race permeate judgments of intelligence and ability.

We put a lot of stock in the noggin, attributing personality to the brain.

But I think it’s time to separate the brain from the mind—we are not just the suitcase for the cerebrum. We are more than myelin and medulla.

Consider the mind, rather than the brain.


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, framing, Indian, journalism, Native Science, science, science communication and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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