Jealous keepers of the sacred bones

Tim Elliott; 13/3/10

Deep within the Pitt Rivers Museum, at the University of Oxford, is a box labelled ”Australia Ngaarindjeri 1900.55.292”. Inside is a human skull, one of four such Aboriginal drinking skulls held by the museum since 1900. Sealed with resin and with string loops for carrying, the skulls were traditionally used as cups by the Ngarrindjeri people of South Australia, who, according to the museum’s historical notes, ”generally prefer the skulls of their deceased parents or other near relations, to those of strangers”. Some time in the late 1800s, however, the skulls were collected by an English explorer and horseman called Harry Stockdale, and from there passed onto the museum. Now the Ngarrindjeri want them back.