Remains of forgotten genocide victims returned by Berlin museum

genocide, Herero genocide, NamibiaIt’s the genocide most people have forgotten, a ruthless extermination of men, women, and children while an uncaring world focused on other things.

From 1904 to 1908, German colonial rulers in what is now Namibia systematically exterminated the Herero and Nama people. They had rebelled against the colonizers and the German army quickly defeated them. Not satisfied with a only a military victory, the Germans pushed both tribes into the desert, where they starved and died of thirst. Nobody knows how many perished but it may have been as many as 100,000.

A grim relic of this genocide are twenty Herero and Nama skulls kept in the Berlin Medical Historical Museum. One skull is from a three-year-old boy. Originally they had been preserved with the skin and hair intact and used for “studies” to prove the superiority of the white race.

This week the skulls were returned to tribal leaders after an apology and a ceremony. This is the latest in a series of repatriations of human remains to native peoples from museums. Many nations, the United States included, have passed laws requiring human remains to be returned. Identification and legal technicalities slow down the process, however. Berlin collections still include about 7,000 skulls. Then there’s the question of shrunken heads, which were often sold by tribal peoples to collectors, and of very ancient remains that cannot be traced to an existing tribe.

We forget genocides at our peril. Hitler felt he could get away with the Holocaust because nobody cared about the genocide of the Herero and Nama, or the genocide of the Armenians during World War One. Even many of the Holocaust’s victims are forgotten. While everyone knows six million Jews died, many are unaware of the millions of Slavs, Gypsies, political activists, homosexuals, Born-Again Christians, and disabled who were also killed.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Archaeology team tells Queen, “We want to dig up Henry VIII”

Henry VIII, archaeology, archeologyTwo American archaeologists have asked the Queen of England for permission to dig up Henry VIII and use the latest techniques to reconstruct his face. Bioarchaeologist Catrina Whitley and anthropologist Kyra Kramer popped the question because they’re interested in seeing how accurate the royal portraits of the famous king really are. They also want to perform DNA tests to see if he suffered from a rare illness that might have driven him insane.

Facial reconstruction on skulls is nothing new and has been steadily improving over the years. It’s used in archaeology to study ancient people and by CSI teams to identify murder victims.

Drs. Whitley and Kramer would like to open Henry VIII’s grave in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle and measure his skull. They can then create an accurate image of what he looked like in real life.

While this is interesting and is sure to make lots of headlines, of more historic importance is their plan to analyze the king’s DNA to test for McLeod Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that can lead to schizophrenia. Historians have long wondered why an intelligent, level-headed leader became an erratic tyrant in later life. His wives must have wondered too.

No word yet from Queen Elizabeth on whether she’ll allow her predecessor to be exhumed.

For more on how archaeologists go about reconstructing a face from a skull, check out this video of a similar project that reconstructed the face of an ancient Greek girl.

[Photo courtesy Vincent Steenberg]

Archaeology reveals the best way to drink: from a human skull

archaeology, skull, skull cup
Archaeologists in England have discovered three prehistoric skulls that were used as cups, the BBC reports.

The skulls were carefully worked into the shape of bowls. They were found in Gough’s Cave, Somerset, and are 14,700 years old. These make them the oldest skull cups discovered. Investigators found other human remains in the cave that suggest people split the bones to get at the marrow. As any dedicated carnivore knows, the marrow is one of the richest and most nutritious parts of any animal, humans included.

Skull cups were used by many cultures for many reasons. Some were involved in rituals to remind one of death, like this carved Chinese example photographed by user Shizhao and posted to Wikimedia Commons. Other cultures, like the Vikings and Scythians, drank from the skulls of their enemies to brag about their victory or get the power of the slain warrior for themselves. The archaeologists studying the Somerset skulls have published an interesting article about skull cups. The BBC also interviewed one of the researchers and their video of the skull cups is below.

So next time you’re in a museum, keep a sharp eye out for skull cups. The Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena has one, as does the Ethnological Museum in Berlin. London’s Natural History Museum sponsored the research and is making a reconstructed skull cup that will go on display in March.

Have you seen skull cups in other museums? Tell us about it in the comments section!

Photo of the Day (10.31.10)

Happy Halloween! Er, should I make that Happy Day of the Dead? Believe it or not, America isn’t the only country that likes to celebrate spooky holidays. In Mexico and some parts of Latin America, November 2nd is the chosen day to remember and celebrate the lives of deceased ancestors. Though one might think a holiday about death would be a somber affair, it’s usually not. Much like Halloween, family and friends get together to laugh, eat some good food and pay tribute to those who have passed. The jolly skeletons captured here by Flickr user borderfilms (Doug) in Chiapas, Mexico are a common Day of the Dead decorating theme.

Taken any great photos during your travels? Why not add them to the Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.

SkyMall Monday: Top 5 Halloween Decorations

Can you believe that we’re less than two weeks shy of Halloween? It seems like just yesterday that we were saying farewell to summer. But here we are, stocking up on candy, finalizing party plans and coordinating costumes with our friends. There’s just one thing that we forgot to do here at SkyMall Monday headquarters: decorate. You can’t celebrate Halloween without properly decorating your home. I’m not talking about a few fake cobwebs, a lame scarecrow and some childish ghosts hanging from your trees. No, when it comes to decorating for Halloween, you need to do things bigger, better and scarier than anyone else in your neighborhood. Unless you want kids egging your house, you better act like you know what you’re doing when it comes to everyone’s favorite scary holiday. Thankfully, SkyMall knows just how to turn your home from charming to chilling. This week, we’re taking a look at the Top 5 Halloween decorations in our favorite catalog.1. Chuckles the Clown (pictured above)

Clowns are inherently frightening. Fake clowns that stand 61″ inches tall are even more terrifying. Add in the fact that it “shakes slightly” and has “Realistic Taxidermy Eyes,” and you’re going to be providing the neighborhood kids with some real nightmare fuel. Even more bizarre: the motor requires a 9V battery. They still make 9V batteries? Scary.

2. Skullduggery Toilet Bowl Brush

Halloween decorations aren’t just for the outside of your home. Some haggard trick-or-treater will surely need to evacuate his bowels after a long night of asking strangers for candy (or clean up after pooping his pants upon seeing Chuckles the Clown). Make sure that he lets out a blood-curdling scream when he finds your bathroom. This brush will also ensure that even the scariest nut-filled nougaty messes don’t stain your toilet.

3. Peter Rottentail Costume

For a truly interactive decorative experience, you will need to have someone manning your yard at all times. Suit them up in this Peter Rottentail costume and you’re sure to keep people buzzing about how scary you’ve made your home. Plus, you can’t deny that that is one handsome vest. Vests are the best part of fall attire. They keep your core warm but allow a full range of motion for touch football games, long walks in the park and big leaps into piles of leaves. Yep, vests are pretty awesome. However, the lack of pants do make this costume a tad vulgar. Perhaps a pair of corduroys would complete this ensemble. Cords are probably the second-best article of fall clothing. They have ridges, just like the best potato chips. They make that cool sound when you walk. They remind you of your childhood. Get this rabbit some corduroys and he’ll be scaring people in style.

4. Creepy Cathy Animated Prop

I’ll defer to the product description on this one:

Her face is very scary and she pivots at the waist as she screams and groans…

Sounds like some of the girls I brought home from bars back in my younger days. Of course, those girls were taller than this 4′ little lady. Plus, “Her body is all latex – her entire torso, head, full length of arms and legs – not just plastic tubing or skinny metal armature.” Sit back and enjoy the looks on your friends’ faces when you tell them, “I only buy latex girls.”

5. Spinning Head Baby

Seriously, this thing is just creepy. No joke. Just unsettling.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts