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Friday, 14 September 2012

Two Skulls

We had packed off our beautiful daughter to Lyon and, suitably sombre, we decamped to the British Museum and made our separate ways. I gravitated to the Egyptian section and was held by the unexpected.

 Two skulls.*

I stared at them for some time, these two skulls. Two of them revealed advanced tooth decay, but then again they were over four thousand years old. They were nut-brown and smooth and my hand itched to stroke them. For a moment they appeared more substantial, more alive than the dim reflected shadows shuffling  behind me.

All three were creatures from an alien world, one frozen in artefacts and stone, papyri, symbolic tomb paintings. All three resonated, evoking vivid images of red deserts, dense swathes of reeds beneath dark blue skies, gargantuan pillars, priests caught in their shadow, jackals scrabbling in moonlit tombs. Time drifted by. 

Two skulls became five.*

But we had a train to catch and I a full bladder that demanded attention.

One death is a tragedy a million a statistic. It is why charnel houses and ossuaries hold little interest beyond the macabre. All those stories crying out for attention. Too many. But those skulls and their lives stayed with me for the rest of the day and the day after that.

I found myself looking, not at people, but at what lay beneath, their skeletal structure and skulls. Would a skeleton bother to brush his or her teeth? Probably, and with them their fibula and tibia, sternum and pate. None of them would scowl. Skeletons can't.

The Tube rattled as bone clinked on bone, flesh-sweat and flatulence no longer present in my new skeleton kingdom. Neither, too, were beautiful women. They were the first to regain their flesh as my reverie faded. Still, one day we to will be calcified or turned into ash – except for those lucky few who will end up behind glass cases to be scrutinised by idlers from the C66th.

I had no camera that day.


LD Masterson said...

Do you ever wonder if the former owners of the remains on display in museums object to the invasion of their skeletal privacy?

Mike Keyton said...

Well, their naughty bits have gone. Anyway, they were staring at me!

Maria Zannini said...

Since I plan to be cremated, all anyone in C66 will see is the back of my ash. :)

I always wonder about their stories, more so the unknown skeletons than the celebrity skeletons.

Mike Keyton said...

Maria, I quite fancy a natural low-tech burial in a small wood. There are a growing number of such woods in Britain. A tree is nicer than a tombstone.

Jay Paoloni said...

Oh, I won't have that problem.
I have to confess that seeing the skulls and reading, as a paragraph opener, something like "we'd packed off our beautiful daughter to Lyon", well, I was phone in hand ready to call Scotland Yard. Then I read British Museum, and everything's alright.

Mike Keyton said...

What a twisted mind you have, Jay : )

Mina said...

Ineresting post Mike! that's another point of view.
Take care

Mike Keyton said...

Thank you, Mina, and thank you for the two photos. I tried to comment on your recent post on Scotland, but being a very poor linguist - unlike you - couldn't work out where the comment box was : (

Anonymous said...

Skulls are fascinating. I remember as a kid when I saw one I'd try to move the jaw and talk for it. Usually these were props though. But fun nonetheless.

Misha Gerrick said...

I work in reverse from you, trying to imagine what the faces looked like when the people were alive.

Mike Keyton said...

I love those computer simulations based on forensic modelling - but each time my less capable mind tries this, I come up with a different result : )My skulls sometimes change sex, but they never complain.