Restoration Reveals Human Skull in Famed Natural History Museum Diorama

Courtesy Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Courtesy Carnegie Museum of Natural History / Courtesy Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Restoration experts working on a diorama from Pittburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History recently uncovered a major surprise, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The famous “Arab Courier Attacked by Lions” diorama contains human remains.

The diorama first debuted in Paris in 1867, and has been on display since Andrew Carnegie bought it in 1899. Conservators recently took it out from under protective glass to clean it, x-raying it during the restoration process. They found that not only do some of the taxidermied animals in the scene contain occasional bones, including skulls, leg bones, and some vertebrae, but the human figure is made with a real skull.

The figure riding a dromedary camel in the diorama was created by the Verreaux brothers, who already had a penchant for using human remains in their work. They controversially taxidermied the corpse of a man from a southern African tribe in the 1830s. Researchers already knew that the Carnegie-housed diorama contained human teeth, but the recent CT scan of the body showed that “Arab” rider’s head contains an entire human skull. Museum researchers have not been able to trace the origins of the skull yet, so they can’t return it anywhere for reburial.

Because the rider mannequin isn’t an accurate reflection of what an Arab from North Africa would have looked like at the time, the museum has given the diorama a new name. “Lion Attacking a Dromedary” will be unveiled once again at the museum in a new location on January 28.

[h/t Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]