Göttingen University Medical Center • Anatomy Center
Kreuzbergring 36
37075 Göttingen

Public exhibition: partial
Open: Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m
Admission free
Guided tours: by appointment

Contact person: Prof. Dr. Dr. Michael Schultz
Tel.: 0551 39-7000

The skull collection founded by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840) is apparently the oldest surviving university collection in the world and is therefore an extremely valuable possession of the Georgia Augusta. Based on the skulls he collected, Blumenbach wrote in his dissertation in 1775 "about the natural differences in the human race" and about four different "main varieties" of anatomically modern humans - so he did not establish a "racial theory" as is often incorrectly assumed.

In 1779, in the first edition of his “Handbook of Natural History,” he added a fifth variety. Those original skulls are still in the collection today. Numerous domestic and foreign students, friends and colleagues repeatedly sent or gave Blumenbach human skulls, such as Johann David Michaelis (1717–1791), Georg Thomas von Asch (1729–1807), Cardinal Stefano Borgia (1731–1804), Joseph Banks (1743–1820), Carl Peter Thunberg (1743–1828), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), Samuel Thomas von Soemmerring (1755–1830), Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828), Alexander von Humboldt ( 1769–1859), Georg Heinrich von Langsdorff (1774-1852), Martin Hinrich Lichtenstein (1780–1857), Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied (1782–1867), Christian VIII of Denmark and Norway (1786–1848) and Johann Friedrich Ludwig Hausmann (1782–1859). Since the “object of the collection” clearly fell within the research and teaching area of anatomy, his entire natural history collections were acquired by the university in 1840 and partially incorporated into the collection of the Anatomical Institute by the anatomist Bernhard von Langenbeck (1810–1887). This was subsequently supplemented by him and his successors Jacob Henle (1809–1885), Friedrich Merkel (1845–1919) and Hugo Fuchs (1875–1954). The scientific and historical significance of the collection is undisputed, as it also contains archaeologically and culturally important exhibits.

The skull collection here is also of current scientific interest. The skulls, which show traces of malnutrition (e.g. scurvy) or infectious diseases (including syphilis) as well as external violence (trauma, trephination, etc.), represent important comparison cases for medical history and paleopathological research that provide information about diseases and medical assistance of the late modern period.

The original and extensive original catalog was lost during World War II; The collection itself remained intact because it was relocated to Bremke at the instigation of the then director Erich Blechschmidt (1904–1992). Today the holdings are part of the collections of the Anatomy Center at the University of Göttingen. In total it includes more than 840 skulls and casts.

Michael Schultz & Mike Reich

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