Skulls & Sarnies

by Tyler Wilson

Ancient Skull

Ancient Skull

 

I’m an Anthropologist…and a BioArchaeologist. I’ve been all blood & guts for as long as my family & colleagues can remember, in a good way. Pursuing my dreams has been exciting, challenging, and sometimes bewildering. At this time of year, Halloween and all the carnivorous holidays, my truest colors emerge. The evolution of Celtic harvest festivals into some of the highly profitable commercial holidays we celebrate today are interesting cultural vistas. I find myself judging tables overflowing with meat, plattered fowl & resplendent Halloween curiosities based on correct bone articulations and patterns of blood splatter…as much as quality.

 

Titris Hoyuk, archaeological ruins of an Early Bronze Age site

Titris Hoyuk, archaeological ruins of an Early Bronze Age site

 

“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.”

~Mark Twain

“In the course of my life, I have often had to eat my words, and I must confess that I have always found it a wholesome diet.”

~Winston Churchill

“Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them.”

~Samuel Butler

So while we are on the subject of eating what you do or don’t want —

Wikipedia: Cannibalism (from Caníbales, the Spanish name for the Carib people, a West Indies tribe formerly well known for their practice of cannibalism) is the act or practice of humans eating the flesh or internal organs of other human beings. It is also called anthropophagy. A person who practices cannibalism is called a cannibal.

 

Depiction of Cannibalism

Depiction of Cannibalism

 

Anthropophagy is practiced, if not widely, then at least differently around the globe. Exocannibalism (consumption of those of another culture) and endocannibalism (consumption of those of the same culture) takes place to varying ritualistic degrees in tribes, as well as survival and epicurean/nutritional cannibalism (consumption for taste for nutritional value). This last was common enough that the modern term long pig was created to refer to cooked human flesh. It originated from the Maquesan language, and was first coined in print by Frederick O’Brien’s 1919 travelogue of French Polynesia, White Shadows in the South East Seas.

From livescience: Fragments of a 1.5-million-year-old skull from a child recently found in Tanzania suggest early hominids weren’t just occasional carnivores but regular meat eaters, researchers say. The finding helps build the case that meat-eating helped the human lineage evolve large brains, scientists added.

“I know this will sound awful to vegetarians, but meat made us human,” said researcher Manuel Domínguez-Rodrigo, an archaeologist at Complutense University in Madrid.

 

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The art of AVM Curiosities

 

Humans indeed…artistically combining gluttony and anatomy is at its creative heights in the work of AVM Curiosities.

 

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AVM Curiosities: Since launching in 2011 they’ve made everything from edible hair to inhale-able bacon sarnies for a list of clients that include The National Trust, V&A, Selfridges and Grey Goose. “…Exploring the relationship between art and food, through a series of high-calibre events and edible interventions.” Intervention Indeed!

Founded by foodie extraordinaire, Tasha Marks, in 2011, Animal Vegetable Mineral see food as an artistic medium, drawing on a range of historical influences including 16th century cabinets of curiosity and 1930s medicinal cookery.

AVM also collaborated with two other food sculptors, Conjurer’s Kitchen and The Curious Confectioner, for an exhibition at Pertwee, Anderson & Gold to create an edible vanitas case for the ‘Museum of Curiosity’ exhibition. It contained hyperrealistic fossils, coral and fabril alongside a phrenology skull. When the exhibition was over, the entirely edible sculpture was gorged upon by exhibit attendees.

Biblical Chocoate, AVM Curiosities

Biblical Chocolate, AVM Curiosities

Another all-time favorite edible event: Eat Your Heart Out 2012 was held at St Bartholomews Pathology Museum, at Queen Mary, University of London, West Smithfield campus to enticingly educate the public on anatomy and disease via anatomically correct cakes, cookies and cocktails. “Eat Your Heart Out began when Thomas curated an 18+ cake shop in east London and saw how people were fascinated by creating and consuming anatomical cakes. 20 cakemakers, from students to professionals have contributed 53 designs for the event.”

"Eat Your Heart Out", skinless skull

“Eat Your Heart Out”, skinless skull

 

As much as we try to pretend cannibalism is a relic of a less civilized era, we can’t ignore that there are modern cases. Whether it is an act of desperation, mental illness, or artistic expression, consumption of human flesh will always be regarded as taboo (for legitimate medical reasons) in most societies.

And frankly it makes sense, because you have to remember: you are what you eat.

 

The Raft of the Medusa, by Theodore Gericault

The Raft of the Medusa, by Theodore Gericault

 

Happy Holidays!

 

 

Phillip Walker

Phillip Walker

 

This post is dedicated to Professor Phillip Walker, my inspiration & mentor, who is hopefully smiling down on me as he reads this. Walker, who began teaching at UCSB in 1974, was known for, among other things, his studies of the ways human skeletal remains could be used to address questions regarding human health, diet, pathologies, trauma, and behavior as they have been manifested in human populations through time and over space. Professor Walker’s classes were always enlightening and challenging in equal measure. Engaging and witty, he was a wordly teacher who could relate even the most obscure material. In particular his work with, and knowledge of dentition and dental pathology instilled in me just how much data can be gleaned from teeth and more informed visits to the dentist. Thank you for those endlessly illuminating hours in Walker Lab piecing together the puzzle of your ancient Nubian skeletons. Here’s a holiday toast to you, Phillip…

 

 

 

 

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