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Rebury the “Atavistic Skull” Studied by Lombroso?

Ciliberti, Rosagemma, JSD*; Armocida, Giuseppe, MD; Licata, Marta, PhD

The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology: June 2019 - Volume 40 - Issue 2 - p 136–139
doi: 10.1097/PAF.0000000000000460
Historical Review
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On May 16, 2017, the judgment of the Italian court ended the legal battle concerning the repatriation request of the famous skull, belonging to the “brigand” Giuseppe Villella. During the autopsy examination on the corpse of Villella, Lombroso observed a median occipital dimple on the skull, a feature visible in other mammals, including primates, but absent in humans. This feature could demonstrate an anomalous dimension of the median lobe of Villella's cerebellum. From this anatomical finding, Lombroso consolidated the atavism theory, which established a close connection between morphological features and behavior.

The Lombroso Museum and the University of Turin reiterated the legitimacy of the possession of the skull as cultural property in accordance with the Code of Cultural Heritage and as a find of forensic psychopathology. Finally, the court rejected the request from Villella's hometown, highlighting that the scientific theory is unquestionably invalid, but his existence cannot be denied.

The “special” nature of human remains emerges from the special way in which the Code of Ethics of the International Council of Museums treats them, which also implies respect to the other material of the museum collections.

From the *Section of Forensic Medicine and Bioethics, Department of Health Sciences, University of Genoa, Genoa; and

Centre of Research in Osteoarchaeology and Paleopathology, Department of Biotechnology and Life Sciences, University of Insubria, Varese, Italy.

Manuscript received June 21, 2018; accepted November 29, 2018.

The authors report no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Marta Licata, PhD, Centre of Research in Osteoarchaeology and Paleopathology, Department of Biotechnology and Life Sciences, University of Insubria, O. Rossi, 9, 21100 Varese, Italy. E-mail: marta.licata@uninsubria.it.

© 2019 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.