Schädelkult – Head and skull in the cultural history of man
Editors: Alfried Wieczorek, Wilfried Rosendahl
Verlag Schnell & Steiner. 388 p., 500 figures.
Hardcover, ISBN 978-3-7954-2455-8. € 19,90 (museums edition)
This is the catalogue/museum edition from the amazing exhibition ‘Schädelkult – Mythos und kult um das Haupt des Menschen’ which was held in the LWL -Museum für Archäologie, Westfälisches Landesmuseum, Herne, Germany from 17 November 2012 until 14 April 2013. (see also: http://www.schaedelkult.lwl.org/)
Although it is in German there are so many photographs that even if your German isn’t brilliant… like mine… it is still well worth the EUR 19,90 (!!)
From the anatomy of the skull… to crystal skulls… to examples of headhunters of Papua New Guinea this was an immense exhibition. There were examples of pre-historic trepanation (drilling a hole in the skull to relieve pressure… and pain) which suggests that this was one of the oldest known surgical procedures.
That people have been fascinated by skulls is evidenced by the diverse cultures where skulls have been decorated and used as ritual objects.
Also there were examples of skulls being shaped or deliberately deformed from infancy as a sign of beauty.
Skull deformation from South America.
I was certainly surprised at how diverse the interest in skulls is and how many examples have been saved. There was a whole section on the medical and anatomical interest in skulls, including measuring them in determining whether the person was in fact human or not. This was part of the now disputed ‘Racial theory’ (Rassenkunde) popular amongst anthropologists in the 19th century in Western Europe.
This catalogue is an absolute must for anyone interested in the ‘Cult of the Skull’ and missed the exhibition in Herne.