October 18, 2020

They've covered the popular "Lion Attacking a Dromedary” diorama at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh — do you see why?

Here's the article in USA Today: 
The museum’s interim director says the scene... has disturbed some because it depicts violence against a man described as an Arab courier.

Wait! Is the human figure a taxidermied human being?! 

The director, Stephen Tonsor, also says recent X-rays showed that the 1860s-era taxidermy was performed with real human bones from an unknown person. Tonsor says the museum’s ethics policy requires that any human remains respect the person’s cultural traditions and be done with permission “of the people whose remains are displayed.”

I replaced the dramatically lit photo from the newspaper with the Creative Commons image at Wikipedia (by Mike Steele), which shows the human figure much more clearly. Let's read more detail at Wikipedia:

The diorama [by French taxidermist Édouard Verreaux] was created for the Paris Exposition of 1867 and subsequently shown at the American Museum of Natural History, Centennial Exposition, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. As part of a 2017 restoration, the museum found human remains in the diorama. In 2020, the diorama was removed from view in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.... In the creation of the work, Verreaux used bones and skins to form the stuffed dromedary and two stuffed lions. The human figure was made mostly of plaster.... 
After the death of Verreaux in 1867, Lion Attacking a Dromedary was sold to the American Museum of Natural History and shown at the 1876 Centennial Exposition. In 1898, it was sold to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History for $50 (equivalent to $1,537 in 2019). The work was considered to be "too theatrical" to be displayed at the American Museum of Natural History.

So... it's bad "natural history," more of a 19th century curiosity. The American Museum of Natural History actually considered destroying it in 1898 because it was considered "too emotional and distracting for educational purposes." The argument on the other side had to do with its power to draw people into the museum. It's entertainment... watching this imaginary man terrified by a lion. As the years wore on, the criticism grew. It was disparaged as "orientalist."

The human remains problem emerged much more recently, giving a separate reason for removing it (at least from a place of honor):

As part of [a 2016] restoration, the museum conducted tests on the animals using X-rays and DNA analysis techniques of the taxidermied animals to determine if they were genuine. Verreaux was known to fake records to inflate the selling price of his dioramas. The human figure was determined to be mostly synthetic, but, to the surprise of the museum, the head contained a human skull. Previously, it was thought that the human figure was only made of plaster. It is unknown who the skull belongs to or where Verreaux collected the skull from. In January 2017, the diorama went back on display in the foyer of the museum, previously it was in the hall of North African mammals, and the name was changed from Arab Courier Attacked by Lions to Lion Attacking a Dromedary.... 
In July 2020, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History removed Lion Attacking a Dromedary from view citing the Black Lives Matter movement and the lack of accuracy. The museum is considering moving the diorama to a part of the museum where it can be avoided.... The diorama is inaccurate both scientifically and anthropologically and is considered to be a work of fiction. 

Maybe relocate it to a museum dedicated to human culture and present it as something that illustrates what 19th century French people were like.

82 comments:

Achilles said...

Scenes of true violence are going to be disturbing to most Americans.

I would bet most kids turning 18 these days have never broken a bone.

If you get hurt there is a med pack at the top of the stairs and you get better.

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...

BLM tag?

If Trump wins, it will be because of the subliminally, yet relentlessly, conveyed message to Hispanics that they’re White and will be treated accordingly by the Prog clerisy.

If there are human bones in the courier, I get why the display might be considered problematic. OTOH, it’s also a bit of immortality, in a Jake the Alligator Man kind of way.

tim in vermont said...

What if it was a mountain lion attacking a Pony Express rider? I think that was oen of Louis L’Amour’s examples in his little bit about there being a hundred ways to die in the West. A great paragraph turned into a lousy movie by Seth McFarland.

Kate said...

Some poor bastard was used in a plaster project and they shrug. Put it back on display!

Achilles said...

Wait! Is the human figure a taxidermied human being?!

The director, Stephen Tonsor, also says recent X-rays showed that the 1860s-era taxidermy was performed with real human bones from an unknown person. Tonsor says the museum’s ethics policy requires that any human remains respect the person’s cultural traditions and be done with permission “of the people whose remains are displayed.”


Um.

Where did they get the bones? Who supplied the skin?

Was it really necessary to use actual human remains? Seems like a lot of extra hassle and effort.

What was the point?

Ken B said...

As an Anglo Canadian I don’t usually object to slamming the French, but I think Althouse’s knee-jerk “I have to attack some white people to show I care” response is daft.

n.n said...

A human fossil from which a man and history can be inferred.

madAsHell said...

North African mammals, and the name was changed from Arab Courier Attacked by Lions to Lion Attacking a Dromedary....

I've been to Africa. The Arabs are north of the Sahara. The lions are south. How does a lion find a camel???

madAsHell said...

One more thing......the male lions don't attack. They wait for the females to kill, and then they move-in. Kinda like Hillary-n-Bill.

Fritz said...

I worked at the Academy of Natural Sciences (in Philadelphia, but my job was in Maryland) for many years. There was a apocryphal story among the staff in Philadelphia that there was a pygmy pickled in a drum somewhere in the basement, sent from Africa by one of it's wealthy benefactors in the 19th century. It was not outside the realm of possibility. We did have a mummy on display.

Expat(ish) said...

These daisies confuse me.

If the skull is a white guy (let's assume they can do that) then does Trump get the thumbs up or down on it? Or, given it's most likely some french skull lying around, does Macron get the vote?

If it's a Polynesian skull (shut up, it could be) which of the 2000 islands get to claim it?

This is nuts, of course, but it proves these people aren't very busy and have time to do this.

-XC

madAsHell said...

Lions never attack alone.

bagoh20 said...

What's inaccurate about it? Are they saying they believe that lions never attacked a man and a camel in similar fashion? I've seen video of real tigers attacking men on elephants just like that, so it seems pretty likely to me. This is especially topical today since it's an example of some people having an emotional reaction to something, and then "experts" design a justification for letting that emotional response by a few people rule the rest of us. Maybe this is what is meant by "the meek shall inherit the Earth". They sure are getting their way a lot these days.

Paco Wové said...

In Paris' Jardin des Plantes, there are at least two statues on the theme of wild animals attacking indigenous people. There's a bear savaging a North American indian, and there's an orangutan strangling somebody - a Malay, I guess.

Yancey Ward said...

If the guy on the camel had been white, it would have been accused of erasing people of color from their own history. We now live in a damned if you do or don't world. Get use to it.

Yancey Ward said...

Oh, now I get it- that red thing on his head, it is a MAGA hat!

Lurker21 said...


The director, Stephen Tonsor

Apparently, he is the son of the late conservative intellectual Stephen Tonsor.

Rory said...

Saw it a hundred times as a child. It is mesmerizing. It might take 10-20 years, but I'd be glad to donate my carcass to replace the Arab.

Big Mike said...

The diorama is inaccurate both scientifically and anthropologically and is considered to be a work of fiction.

Inaccurate anthropologically? A work of fiction? Is he saying that it NEVER happened that lions attacked a camel with a person riding it?

Paco Wové said...

How does a lion find a camel???

Barbary Lion

rhhardin said...

Ghost Town (2008) Tea Leone explains mummy to Ricky Gervais

You should have seen the state he was in when we found him. Blackened skin, multiple fractures from extensive marauding, fully retreated lips.

Five thousand years of acid reflux will do that to you.

Deep down, you know, the preservation was exquisite New Kingdom work, and it's what's underneath that counts. First, they suctioned his brain out through his nose. And then they make a slit in the side of the abdomen, so that they can remove the stomach, liver, intestines...

Beautiful.

...so that they could be separately preserved in Canopic jars. But what's really exciting about Pepi is how they handled his organ.

- His organ?

- Yeah, his dick. I got it right here. You wanna see it?

Please.

There's nothing unusual about the phallus itself.

- Sure.

- It's the way it was stored. You know, normally, the penis and the heart are kept together and mummified along with the body, but in Pepi's case, they removed it and preserved it in this separate gold-encrusted jar.

God. I can see why he was king.

- You okay?

- Yeah. I've got to get used to looking down at a shriveled, old penis, eventually. Oh, geez. I see he died happy.

That's it. That's enough.

He must have had huge hands.

- No, no.

- Yeah.

Readering said...

For 50 dollars sell it to Madame Tussauds, which can replace the rider with a wax figure.

FullMoon said...

Readering said...

Lions never attack alone but there are 2 in the case.

chuck said...

Reminds me of this Tiger attack on YouTube, it has over 10 million views. Édouard Verreaux was ahead of his time.

Rosalyn C. said...

I do find the mummy display at the NY Met Museum and other institutions offensive. They were people, royalty even and now anybody can stare and gawk at their exposed remains. Appalling!

Also appalling and acceptable: Damien Hirst's early work which featured dead animals displayed in glass boxes filled with formaldehyde, rotting carcases, thousands of dead butterflies glued to canvases to decorate his surfaces.

Question: How Many Animals Have Died for Damien Hirst’s Art to Live? We Counted. Nearly one million, by our conservative estimate. “It’s amazing what you can do with an E in A-Level art, a twisted imagination, and a chainsaw,” Hirst declared, accepting the Turner Prize in 1995. Indeed. shocking

Temujin said...

This has opened new horizons for my personal will. Ground burial vs cremation? Burial at sea? Entombed in the basement wall of our weird neighbor? All very common and humdrum.

Now I can apply to be a taxidermy work sample??!! Imagine the world of possibilities. On display as whatever you want. Famous explorer. Cliff dweller of Mesa Verde. New York traffic cop circa 1970. The world is your stage upon death. Think ahead and create your next act! Dromedary attacked by Lion is pretty damned creative.

Big Mike said...

I've been to Africa. The Arabs are north of the Sahara. The lions are south. How does a lion find a camel???

Go look up Atlas Mountain lions. They are extinct today but were still attacking camel riders right up to World War II.

Expat(ish) said...

On reviewing the picture more carefully I was able to determine that the Lion had a Mohammed cartoon tattoo and was being attacked by the camel rider.

Someone call PETA.

-XC

wholelottasplainin' said...

madAsHell said...
North African mammals, and the name was changed from Arab Courier Attacked by Lions to Lion Attacking a Dromedary....

I've been to Africa. The Arabs are north of the Sahara. The lions are south. How does a lion find a camel???
******************
Lions used to live in North Africa, Greece and well into the md-East, as evidenced by the Lion's Gate in Mycenae, and the many carvings and paintings of them being hunted by the ancient Egyptians and Assyrians.

https://tinyurl.com/y4bu42d8

MacMacConnell said...

Paint the guy's face and hands white, put a pith helmet on him. Maybe pin on a Victorian Cross.

Of course then BLM's vagina will get all infected with really bad case of COLONIAL yeast.

RigelDog said...

I remember that lion-attack diorama well. I had a magical childhood, and one reason was that I roamed the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh at will, by myself, beginning at age 8. I was a real-life Matilda (the Roald Dahl story/movie) without the abusive parents. An only child raised by a single, working mom, I was on my own after school for hours. Since my grade school was in the neighborhood of the Museum (Oakland), I would often go to the museum instead of home to an empty apartment. There was no admission fee. No one stopped an 8 year old girl walking about by herself. The practice of schools having frequent field-trips hadn't yet taken hold and so I usually had the place to myself at 3pm on a weekday. It's a huge gorgeous museum full of dinosaurs and architecture and natural artifacts and historical curiosities. I soaked up the learning and the beauty and the horror. The Museum's impressive Hall of Dinosaurs featured one of the biggest Tyrannosaurus's ever found. Terrifying to stand under it and look up at those teeth and those little arms waiting to snatch you up! I was both fascinated and repelled by the full mummy they had in its painted sarcophagus; you could see some of the blackened fingers though a gap in the linen wrappings. And while I loved the dioramas, I was always uneasy, understanding that these were the carcasses of real animals. But I was too disturbed by the diorama of the lions attacking the camel to do more than hurry past---I remember being so distraught by the camel's terror.
What a crime it would be to deprive the public of the chance to see this astounding, unique piece of history.

Joe Smith said...

What does BLM have to do with a camel, lions, and an Arab?

Did they have concerns about the lion's family?

The camel's?

Folks be crazy...

Btw, it would make an amazing statue in marble or bronze.

Maillard Reactionary said...

I didn't continue reading to get to the punchline that Althouse set up, but I'm pretty sure that the reason is stupid.

Change my mind.

The Godfather said...

It’s gonna be pretty hard to get the consent of the guy whose remains are displayed, him being dead and all.

Josephbleau said...

The asiatic lion Panthera leo persica ranged from Saudi Arabia to Turkey, Iran, and India until the 20th century. Still exists in India. Why is BLM in charge of the Arabs? I bet the Arabs would like the display, they like individual combat. I assume in the French context the lion is France, eating the Arabs for economic gain.

eddie willers said...

The Arabs are north of the Sahara. The lions are south.

Not the Barbary lion. That what the Romans brought back for fun and entertainment.

Bob Boyd said...

ALAB

tim maguire said...

Human skeletons are everywhere and unremarkable. I think it's an excuse and the real reason is that it shows a non-white person in a violent scenario that was probably common enough that it happened to most people in that environment at least once in their life (note that he's ready with he knife). But he's dark skinned, so out he goes!

ColoComment said...

If the bones are human then, yeah, replace the figure with a 100% fake replica & inter the bones in respectful fashion

OTOH, w/r/t animal violence, am I the only reader old enough to remember Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom" weekly show? You wanna see nature "red in tooth and claw" check it out:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA1UeRQ_bbVtaBpPNaAmIr0IBeikxJzMM

Darrell said...

Yes, Lefties will grind your bones to make their gluten-free bread.

Wince said...

I wonder what they'd think of great Dudley Dickerson in this classic Three Stooges scene from Hold That Lion?

"Help! Help! Ah'm losin' mah mind!""

D. said...

They should move it outside to where the Stephen Foster statue used to be.

Narr said...

The left out the word "jockey"?

Narr
Captioning is very important

Marcus Bressler said...

Ah, but does the camel portrayed have a toe? That's the real question. We wouldn't want to offend feminists.

THEOLDMAN

So I went to Google and asked if lions attacked camels. The answer: Yes, in India, Gir Forest Asiatic lions eat camels albeit relatively rarely.

n.n said...

It is in Nature's disposition to be both creative and cruel. A telling choice to hide Her obscenity behind a mask. 19th century artistic cannibalism, compared to 21st century clinical cannibalism. Both shrouded and sequestered beneath a veil to protect the innocent, or the complicity of the protesting gaggle? An epiphany, a Freudian slip, and close association with Some, Select Black Lives Matter. Progress.

wildswan said...

The man resembles Tuareg men.
https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/tumbuctumali-sept22011-tuareg-desert-mali-375353545
But his clothes apparently mingle Arab and Tuareg customary attire. So, not natural history. Put it into art.

Here's a painting done by Delacroix in 1849
https://www.amazon.com/Arab-Horseman-Attacked-Eugene-Delacroix/dp/B07BK5LCQB

bagoh20 said...

I doubt I'm alone in thinking that I would much rather have my remains part of such a thing than stuffed in a rotting box for eternity, useless, ignored and forgotten forever.

Ralph L said...

So remove the head and put it back on display. That'll bring in the kiddies.

stevew said...

Here it is for me: their museum, their rules. Seems silly to me to apply today's rules to items of antiquity, even relatively recent ones like this, but its not my rule nor my museum.

bagoh20 said...

Have you people heard of Youtube? Yes, lions do attack alone. Google it.

Drago said...

The "people of color" Arabs lived in perfect harmony with nature and animals and other people and only a racist could think otherwise.

Israeli Jews who share that skin tone are still, of course, racist and evil though because reasons so shut up nazi h8terz!!

todd galle said...

NAGPRA. There is a big movement in the Museum community due to the Diversity, Equity, etc. zeitgeist. I fully believe the museum has no idea who pre-owned the bones used in the mannequin. Public display of such is very much frowned upon. My old museum had a 1960s diorama of an archaeological excavation, with the workers uncovering Native American burials. Well, they used actual Native American bones from the collection. They finally bowed to public pressure and put in casts. The trouble with NAGPRA is when you don't know the tribe, leaving the deceased in limbo. Our organization was moving a 17th C family cemetery which would have ended up under a Bethlehem Steel plant. While exhuming the known burials, they found a Native American who had been added during the Rev. War, apparently snuck in. Shot numerous times given they type of musket balls and swan shot found (best guess is that he was considered a spy and faced a firing squad - could've been either side). We don't know his tribe so can't repatriate. So the poor guy sits on a shelf in a box in a lab storage area.

SDaly said...

The person is also supposed to be a courier, so although the camel is a North African mammal, we have no idea where the courier was traveling when attacked.

We need a clean sweep of the administrations of museums and any other institution originally intended to pass down knowledge or history. These people don't understand their caretaker roles, and feel the need to be important and "with the times."

mikee said...

So the dioramas of Real Bodies - dissected humans - so popular recently - all good, right?
What do NBA players think about the exhibit, and about the Chinese who were dissected and preserved for the exhibit? Is it better or worse if the bodies displayed are prisoners who gave consent, or Tibetans who gave consent, or poor peasants who could not even afford a cremation?

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/apr/25/call-to-shut-real-bodies-exhibition-over-fears-it-uses-executed-prisoners

Of course, this wasn't in a museum! The elite who went to see this paid for the privilege, it was and is a traveling exhibit, still showing around the US. Those bodies look a lot fresher than the old dusty diorama courier.

Roughcoat said...

In the Bronze Age lions flourished and thrived in southeast Europe including Greece, the Balkans, Hungary, Ukraine, parts of southern Russia, and perhaps Italy. The famous Lion Gate at Mycenae was built in a time when lions inhabited the region and posted a constant threat to grazing cattle and sheep. At the same time they were prolific through the Near East / Eastern Mediterranean lands (including Anatolia and the Caucasus, and in North Africa as well. I seem to recall reading that the last lions in North Africa were sighted in the 1960s in Morocco, but in the not very distant past they inhabited all of North Africa and in those habitable areas of the Sahara were game was to be found.

Iman said...

Replace the Arab courier with a likeness of Donald Trump.

Problem solved.

Sally327 said...

At night the display comes alive and can escape into the outside. And people will wonder about the tracks in the snow and then be interested in visiting the museum.

I jest, of course, because this is the plot of the movie, "Night at the Museum", which is only 14 years old but is presumably now considered racist and needs to be taken off the TV schedule where it pops up all the time. This is sad, because Ben Stiller is mostly bearable in it.









Bob Boyd said...

Tonsor says the museum’s ethics policy requires that any human remains...be done with permission “of the people whose remains are displayed.”

How does that work if they're dead?

Question: Would you sign up for a program, like the Organ Donor thing, where it's on your driver's license that you grant permission for museums to display your remains?

I probably would if I thought my carcass was going to be riding a dromedary while fighting a lion with a big knife.

chuck said...

Israeli Jews who share that skin tone

I had an Egyptian friend who was sitting with some other Egyptians in the school cafeteria back in the early 70's. One of them claimed he could easily recognize Jews and then pointed across the cafeteria at my friend's brother who was on the faculty.

Night said...

It's an allegory for Trump attacking the media. The knife represents Biden. The shocked expression is the repressed rage of Karens. I don't know who won. But in my youth I would have like to have seen this display.

Bunkypotatohead said...

We have to destroy the past in order to save it.

William said...

It's very striking. If you were a ten year old boy that's what you would remember from your trip to the museum. The fact that there's a REAL HUMAN SKULL embedded in the horseman adds a further ripple to the wave of horror, but times change. I would recommend taking the skull out in deference to the mores of our era. But changing times can also work in our favor. How about some red acrylic material gushing out of the camel's hide to simulate arterial bleeding. That would be really cool. Maybe some frothy stuff around the camel's mouth to dramatize the poor animal's terror.....People here, including me, have just learned that there were Barbary lions in the Atlas mountains who attacked camels and their riders. So you can't say the exhibit wasn't educational.

The Godfather said...

Imagine when I was a senior in college, and I asked a couple of friends what their career goals were, and one said, I'm going to become a civil rights lawyer, and the other said, I'm going to be a museum curator. Which one did I think would have to put up with hateful public criticism?

chuck said...

Israeli Jews who share that skin tone

I had an Egyptian friend who was sitting with some other Egyptians in the school cafeteria back in the early 70's. One of them claimed he could easily recognize those nasty Jews, then pointed across the cafeteria at my friend's brother.

Ice Nine said...

>>which vividly depicts a lion attacking a camel and the man riding it, has disturbed some because it depicts violence against a man described as an Arab courier.<<

So could we uncover the thing again if we dress the guy up like an Irish mailman and change the name a bit?

Humperdink said...

As a native of the 'Burgh, I have seen this depiction many times. Took my children to it repeatedly. This and the massive dinosaur skeletons are the major draw for young inquisitive minds at Carnegie Museum.

Speaking of taxidermy, I went to Bass Pro Shop in Harrisburg yesterday. They have quite the display of large animals. No Arabs, white guys or blood though.

h said...

It is an indication of how good the state of the world is today that we can spend so much time on things like pronouns and statues and issues like this one. If the time and money spent on these trivialities were instead spent on helping the world's truly poor (living on less than $2 a day), we could lift them out of that extreme poverty and put them on a path to a good life.

tim in vermont said...

"How does that work if they're dead?”

He probably signed a form that said if he didn’t return for his body in 90 days, it would be considered abandoned, and then never showed up.

The Cracker Emcee Refulgent said...


“They left out the word "jockey"?”

Jesus, how did I not think of that?

AllenS said...

So, there was the lion, just trying to eat a camel because he hadn't eaten for a week, when, all of a sudden this man, this you know what kind of a man it was too, tries to behead the lion!

You can't make this stuff up!

tim in vermont said...

I think it shows the rider in a pretty good light, taking on the lion with a knife.

n.n said...

there was the lion, just trying to eat a camel because he hadn't eaten for a week

Not just one. There is one more lying on the ground. The others couldn't be included within the framing of the exhibit.

madAsHell said...

You can stay in the Range Rover, but when the lions see a bi-ped. They go berserk.

I was astounded.

Iman said...

Blogger tim in vermont said...
I think it shows the rider in a pretty good light, taking on the lion with a knife.


Just sayin’!

Anonymous said...

Had to be a MAGA hat, the red thing on the dude's head, to answer the question, "do you see why?"

John Clifford said...

Male lions DO hunt. Often, they are the open, overt hunter, while the females lie in wait downwind. But solitary males, who have been kicked out of their original pride and before they can take a pride away from an aging male, hunt singly and in pairs, and are terrifyingly fantastic hunters. Read about the Tsavo lions... one of which is in this same museum.

Regarding it being a piece of fiction, of course it is. But I am confident that over the past 300 years in Africa a lion has attacked a camel with an Arab rider on it. What is interesting about this piece is that it shows a female lion who has evidently been killed by the Arab, and his empty carbine is lying on top of her. The inferred story is that the man killed the female, and this so outraged the male that he charged and attacked... the man didn't have time to reload his rifle and so jumped on his camel to try and flee but it was too late. Again, a believeable story to anyone who knows anything about lions.

stevew said...

Jeremiah Johnson: Won't he see my feet?

Bear Claw Chris Lapp: Elk don't know how many feet a horse has!

PM said...

Of course they've covered it:
"England Quells North African Revolt"

SensibleCitizen said...

Taxidermy is an art. It belongs in an art museum or in a Cabella's store. It's an amazing piece of work and I doubt very many people genuinely find it "disturbing."

As to the human skull, it was not uncommon in the near past, for real human skulls to be sold to medical and dental schools, and also to art schools. My neighbor, a second generation oral surgeon, had one that had passed down from his dad. He said they mostly came from India where the lowest cast were often sold upon their death for med school cadavers. Now we use homeless people from the US as cadavers for studying anatomy.

I don't see how using a human skull for art is necessarily desecration. Damien Hirsch covered a human skull in diamonds and I don't recall any hoopla around have desecrated a corpse.

Kirk Parker said...

I'm just going to press my keyboard macro key with the memorized comment, "I liked things better when I thought Kurt Schlichter's novels were over-the-top!"

(In particular reference to his depiction of the politically correct /social justice insanity displayed in the People's Republic.)

Bruce Gee said...

What a fascinating, fantastic work of art!