Skulls, faces and being human 
John Harries (University of Edinburgh)
Joost Fontein (University of Johannesburg)
Quincentenary Building, Wolfson Hall B
Start time:
21 June, 2014 at 14:00 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

In this panel we explore skulls and the relationship between skulls, faces and ideas of humanness. The focus is on the materiality of bone and the techniques by which people are constituted in sensual and intellectual engagements with skulls across different historical and ethnographic contexts.

Long Abstract

Amongst the anatomical collections of the University of Edinburgh is the skull of the 16th-century Scottish scholar and poet George Buchanan. It has been with the University from its founding and on display since the early 19th century. At that time it was supposed that the skull bore a likeness to the face of the living Buchanan and that the genius of the man could be found in the very substance of bone: the thinness of his skull being distinguished from the thickness of the skull of an "idiot". This illustrates something of how during the Scottish Enlightenment notions of humanness were often elaborated through emerging technologies of comparative anatomy and forensic investigation. The skull, lying beneath the face and encasing the brain, had a peculiar status within this nascent scholarship: nothing was deemed to hold more of who we are or to reveal more of the qualities of a living person.

This panel invites papers exploring the significance of skulls and faces in diverse contexts, whether these be skulls collected and studied by 19th, 20th and 21st century anatomists and anthropologists or those handled differently by different peoples at different times and for very different reasons. As we particularly want to examine relationships between the materialities of bone and flesh and notions of humanness, we encourage submissions which consider this relationship "symmetrically" and focus on how these ideas are elaborated in affective, sensory and technological engagements with the bones that once lay beneath the face.

Accepted papers: