Friday mystery object #55


For this week’s mystery object I am going to try something for everyone – a bit of Anthropology with some Natural History thrown in. So what is this, what’s it used for and where/what culture is it from – your bonus question is of course what species did the attached skulls belong to:

As usual questions, suggestions and observations in the comments section below, I’ll do my best to answer as the day goes on. Good luck!

42 thoughts on “Friday mystery object #55

  1. Assuming the scalebar is metric this object is perhaps not quite as big as I first assumed. A vaguely-human shaped skull leads one to an intuitive assessment of size* but I think it’s smaller than that …
    which has just made me think about shrunken heads. How on earth did they shrink skullbones?
    The skull on the right – baboon?
    All those tassels would make a pattering sound …
    …it looks like a shield …
    … an African witchdoctor’s shield which he would shake while engaged in a rain dance
    Oh dear Kate how very stereotyped!

    *speaking of assessing size of skulls, congratulations on the paper! How long is a piece of Strix indeed! Reminds me of when I worked at British Ropes and someone phoned up and asked how long a steel rope was.

    • The scale bar is indeed metric and that is a rather Tarzan inspired ‘cultural’ reference!

      I don’t think that shrinking skulls happens much – even shrunken heads are skinned first to the best of my knowledge. That said, the removal of the mineral component of a skull without removing the protein could leave a flexible approximation of a skull that could be dried to make it shrink. I think it would just end up as an amorphous lump though…

      It’s not a shield.

      • I replied on Twitter, rather than cluttering here up with too much flippancy while the game was still on, that my ideas about objects like this are infected by memories of B-movies at Saturday morning cinema as a kid.

  2. It’s the Predator’s earthly trophy bag with human skulls!

    Assuming that’s an inch scale bar, not a centimetre one, skulls are about 15cm’s long which is pretty small for human, and to be honest the eye orbits of both of them look a bit big for human and the muzzle of the right hand one is wrong too.

    The bead / raffia work makes me think of South America, although Papua New Guinea would be an option.

    I’m going for food basket to be worn on the back, with monkey skull highlights from South America. Monkey species something like a black spider monkey and some sort of Howler monkey.

    Skulls look pretty shiny – is that some sort of conservation measure?

    • Pretty close actually!

      The scale bar is metric, but 15 cm isn’t far out for the skulls – which are indeed monkey, although not howlers.

      I’m not sure if the varnish on the skulls is original or an old-fashioned attempt at conservation. It may even have been added to make the object more pleasing to the eye for tourists!

      • There is a difficult distinction to be made at times in Anthropology, between cultural objects used by people in their lives and the objects made for sale to Anthropologists and tourists interested in other cultures (particularly from the middle of the 19th Century to the 1960’s). I simply don’t know enough about the culture in question to tell if this was genuinely used or if it had been made for sale.
        However, the culture that made it was a very popular subject of study, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a thriving trade from making objects for sale.

  3. The skull on the left looks like a CORRECT skull, and I have no idea what a Japanese Macaque skull looks like, but the shape of the one on the right reminds me of one. So with that I’m going for an east Asian cultural artifact.

  4. It’s hard to get an idea of size, can’t really see it well on my phone! Likewise shape, but to take a completely random guess, is it a baby carrier? The skulls maybe intended to ward off evil spirits? And yes, they look like monkey skulls to me.

    • You may be able to carry a baby in it, although only a very small one (it’s only about 30cm or a foot high). I strongly doubt that it’s ever used for that purpose though!

    • Excellent work! I don’t think the species is right, because their range doesn’t extend to the area where this object is from within the country you correctly identified. However, I am slightly uncertain because the skulls are hard to get a good look at and I don’t have any comparative material for the species you suggest (or at least not of the right age and gender). As to what it is – very good indeed, but you’re missing the important feature that would probably tie this all up…

  5. Its a wicker basket. Could it be made from Rattan? I’ve no idea about the skulls other than “Monkey”. Based on other answers I’m going with Old-World rather than New, but primates aren’t my strong point at all.

    • There’s a guy at Greenwich station that uses one of those wheeled granny’s shopping-bags to put pigeons in. This is not the equivalent though!

  6. I think it is either a blowpipe storage/carrier with the monkey skulls to make sure folk know it’s for the poison darts – or its an openwork basket with authentic trim decorated with monkey skull bag charm for the rainforest look which is bang on trend this season.

  7. Looks like a WIN, as used by the WIN (I couldn’t give a specific tribe). Still a very fraught part of the world unfortunately.

    So, what sorts of monkeys do we have in that part of India?
    Loads of Macaques, but others have said Macaque without being censored. Unless that’s too general to be censored…

    Okay.
    I’ll say Capped Langur on the left (I also considered MY FAVOURED HYPOTHESIS).
    Macaque on the right? Hard to find good images of macaque skulls for some reason, so I have to shoot in the dark a little. LIKELY WIN.

  8. Hmm – based on scale and shape, perhaps a quiver? The skulls suggest it’s used for hunting, at any rate. No idea re. place, though, and even more lost when it comes to species identification.

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