Since 1899 a taxidermy diorama called ‘Arab Courier Attacked by Lions’ has been fascinating visitors to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.
The figure of a man on a camel trying to defend himself from an attacking lion while a second lion lies dead at his feet cost the museum $50 in 1899. Little did the thousands of Museums guests who have paused to admire it since know, they were looking at real human remains.
The exhibit was recently removed from display to carry out restoration work. Part of this process was to perform a CT scan, and museum staff were shocked to discover the reason for the amazing life-like realism of the male figure – It contained a real human skull.
Created by French taxidermist Jules Verreaux in 1867, the diorama was displayed in France for two years before spending time in New York, then being moved to Pittsburgh.
Verreaux was a famed taxidermist in his day and was held in high esteem after stealing the body of a Botswana Bushman from his grave and taking it back to Paris to stuff and display in 1830.
However, despite Verreaux’s penchant for stuffing humans, the Museum had no clue about the skull as, unlike the unrelated human teeth used in the head, it was not listed in the records.
DNA testing was unable to give any clues about who the skull belonged to or where they might have come from, but the Museum has a theory. It is highly possible that Verreaux went down into the catacombs of Paris and stole the skull from one of the bodies.
The man on the camel wasn’t the only one to surprise the staff. Both of the Lions had random bones scattered throughout their bodies, and the camel still had its entire ribcage nailed to the wooden frame the skin was mounted on.
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