Monday, March 2, 2015

Use of Human Skulls and Bones in Tibet

Berthold Laufer - Use of Human Skulls and Bones in Tibet (1923)

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Berthold Laufer's The Giraffe in Art and History was the subject of an earlier post.  He turns out to have written enough interesting titles that it seemed worth starting a small Laufer series.  Laufer wasn't a flashy stylist (don't hope for another Urne-Buriall) but he did have an eye for cultural oddities.  These publications are actually closer to pamphlets and were all produced by his employer, The Field Museum in Chicago.  They have available two biographical pieces (one, two) and a pretty extensive bibliography.

Let's start with Use of Human Skulls and Bones in Tibet.  This is a pretty short work, drawing mainly from traveler and ethnographer accounts of skulls used as ceremonial drinking vessels, occasional jewelry and sometimes musical instruments.  (The latter employed by more recent groups like Current 93 and Psychic TV.)  Laufer tries to tie this to more ancient usages (including an account from Herodotus) though not very convincingly.