Saturday, September 29, 2012

Shrunken Heads and Other Fun Things

When the British Empire spanned the globe, one thing they liked to do was to collect things from the outer reaches of the known world.   Lieutenant-General (pronounced "Left-tennant" here)  Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers  was particularly good at collecting things wherever he traveled.    His collection of, well, what his mother must have thought was complete junk, formed the basis of what became Oxford's Pitt River's (and natural history) museum.

While there are many many strange things in this museum, probably the most bizarre is the collection of shrunken heads or tsantas.     Here is one of the best looking of the collection   In case you can't read it, the sign behind it says "Scalp of an enemy painted red on the inside.  The holes round the edges indicate it has been stretched on a hoop --- N. American Indian"

They make these by removing the skin from the skull and then steaming the skin until it shrinks down to a tiny size.   Yuck.

Here is a photo of some more shrunken heads, this time with my hand in the photo so you get a size of how small they are.  The small guy on the bottom reminds me a bit of my brother when he is making his "vulture face".   It is hard to believe (and it is rather disgusting to think) that these were once people!

The museum is just filled with crazy stuff from all over the world.     If you've read the recent best-seller "Remarkable Creatures" by the author of "Girl with a Pearl Earring", you will be excited to know that many of the things collected by Mary Anning are in this museum as well. 

For those who have not read the book --- don't worry there is a movie being made.   If you can't wait for the movie,  Mary Anning was a fossil hunter in the 1800's who discovered some of the very first dinosaurs.  And although she was working class,  a spinster (a woman, for that matter), and not very well educated, she overturned the scientific establishment and became the world expert on fossils.  On the left are some of her smaller finds (The tag above says "Teeth of Large Marine Reptiles")

Among the other things they have in this museum is a huge collection of minerals.   I tried to get some good photos for my upcoming solid state physics book (very very close to done now!) but it turns out to be very hard to get nice photos of a rock.

The museum has a grand central hall filled with large dinosaur skeletons, large animal skeletons, stuffed animals, a stuffed (now extinct) dodo bird and countless other strange beasts.

On the particular day I visited the museum, two other animals were on display:


These are my parents.

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