Overmodeled Solomon Islands Skull

“In the Island of Vella Lavella, the corpse is wrapped in a shroud and attached to the branches of a tree, where it is left for a predetermined amount of days. Once the decay has begun and is well under way, the following operation is applied. The head is taken off and carefully cleaned while the rest of the corpse is abandoned where it was, as it is considered worthless. When the head belongs to an important chief, the features are remodelled with mastic obtained from tita nut while the eyes and tattoo marks (actually face paint) are reproduced with mother of pearl. If the hair cannot be used, it is replaced with natural fiber. The head, whether it has been decorated or not, is then placed in the family reliquary, which may be a small house on a large pole set about 120 cm above the ground, or a small recess dug into a cliff.”

(S. Knibbs, The Savage Solomons as they Were and Are, London: Seely Service, 1929, pp. 31-32).
The scanography of the head reveals the presence of peri- mortem traumatic lesions by stab wounds, which may be the cause of death in a context of inter-tribal conflicts (impact mark on the vertex with bone avulsion and large circular fracture from the temporal bone down to the external hearing canal).

Ref. Report from Dr Philippe Charlier, MCU-PH (APHP-UVSQ), HDR.

Overmodeled Solomon Islands Skull

  • Solomon Islands, Vella Lavella Island
  • 19th century
  • Human skull, wood, parinarium-nut paste, fiber, nautilus shell and nails,
  • H. 23 cm
  • Provenance :

• Collected on Vella Lavella by an Australian expedition in the 19th century

• Jacques Kerchache, Paris Antonio Casanovas, Madrid Private Spanish collection

  • Exhibition/Publication :

• Chemins de la Création-Formes Rituelles – Chateau d’Ancy-le-Franc, 6 June – 20 September 1981, ill. cat. p. 5

• Origenes – Artes Primeras, Collecciones de la Peninsula Iberica, Madrid 2005, ill. cat. 46

• DOUSTAR Martin, Golgotha, The Cult of Skulls, Beveren-Leie, 2014, ill. cat. 31

• GRUSENMEYER Karim & Isabelle, WOLINER Damien, A World of Sculptures, Brussels, 2016, n°56, p144

  • Reference :

• WAITE Deborah, Art des Iles Salomon, dans les collections du Musée Barbier-Mueller, Genève 1983, p. 121-123.

Photo credit : Studio Asselberghs – Frédéric Dehaen

“In the Island of Vella Lavella, the corpse is wrapped in a shroud and attached to the branches of a tree, where it is left for a predetermined amount of days. Once the decay has begun and is well under way, the following operation is applied. The head is taken off and carefully cleaned while the rest of the corpse is abandoned where it was, as it is considered worthless. When the head belongs to an important chief, the features are remodelled with mastic obtained from tita nut while the eyes and tattoo marks (actually face paint) are reproduced with mother of pearl. If the hair cannot be used, it is replaced with natural fiber. The head, whether it has been decorated or not, is then placed in the family reliquary, which may be a small house on a large pole set about 120 cm above the ground, or a small recess dug into a cliff.”

(S. Knibbs, The Savage Solomons as they Were and Are, London: Seely Service, 1929, pp. 31-32).
The scanography of the head reveals the presence of peri- mortem traumatic lesions by stab wounds, which may be the cause of death in a context of inter-tribal conflicts (impact mark on the vertex with bone avulsion and large circular fracture from the temporal bone down to the external hearing canal).

Ref. Report from Dr Philippe Charlier, MCU-PH (APHP-UVSQ), HDR.