Shrunken heads are exactly what they sound like. The practice has only been seen in a few tribes in the northwest region of the Amazon rainforest, but they have become well-known around the world. They were created after someone was defeated in battle; the loser had their head shrunken and sewn shut to keep their spirit inside, which prevented revenge on the killer later on.
To create a shrunken head, the skull is removed from the inside of the skin and boiled before hot rocks and sand are used to dry it. The eyes and lips are sewn shut to capture the spirit inside. It was also believed that rubbing ash on the skin would help this as well.
When shrunken heads became more popular in the mid 20th century, many people started to make fakes using animal heads or skins. Today it is very hard to find a real one, even in museums. There is, however, a real one at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia which we got to see.
Diaphonization is the art/science of staining the bones and cartilage in a wet specimen. The process was first developed in 1977 by the scientists Dingerkus and Uhler, who originally called it “clearing and staining”. The “clearing” part was making the specimen clear by bathing it in trypsin, a digestive enzyme that slowly breaks down the flesh. The specimen is then soaked in multiple batches of bone, cartilage, and/or muscle dyes (the “staining”). The most common dyes are alizarin red and alcian blue. Alcian blue stains cartilage, alizarin red stains bone, and muscle is stained purple.
Diaphonization is almost always used on small specimens under one foot in length because the process takes such a long time. A large rat could take up to six months to complete. Amphibians, fish, and reptiles are particularly suited to this process because their tissues are usually too delicate to be dissected. Using diaphonization on these species is the best way to look at their inner structures without changing or harming them.
We have one diaphonized specimen in our collection so far that we’ll be posting soon!
M gave me this 3D printed skull with the glass dome to protect it. It’s so intricate and beautiful, and definitely one of the more artistic items we have in our collection.
The skull and dome are from one of our favorites, Evolution.
3D Printed Skull
A plastic, ornate model skull in a glass dome with a wooden base.
Size: skull 3″ long x 2 1/2″ wide x 2 3/4″ tall, dome 5 1/2″ wide x 6″ tall
From: Joshua Harker- Etsy
Price: skull $50-$100, dome $20-50