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Dead Images: Facing the history, ethics and politics of European skull collections

A new exhibition and series of events, as part of the 2018 Edinburgh Art Festival, look at the legacy of collections of human skulls held in public institutions. (Published 22 June, 2018)

dead images history classics archaeology edinburgh college art school

During the 19th and early 20th centuries academics and scientists made collections of human skulls, some from local sources but others taken from graves of indigenous peoples without consent and in violation of beliefs concerning the sanctity of the dead.

Many of these collections are still held in public institutions in Europe, often hidden, , and creating a contentious legacy. The ‘Dead Images’ exhibition offers visitors the choice to view a 30 x 3 metre photograph of one such collection – over 8000 skulls held in the Natural History Museum of Vienna – after a series of videos in which people talk about their beliefs and feelings and whether or not such a photograph should be displayed.  

Visitors are asked to reflect upon the work, the ethics of making such a display visible and the role that descendants, curators, scientists, artists and the public might play in reimagining a place and purpose for what are remains of once-living people.

The exhibition and events around it are developed and curated by an interdisciplinary team, including staff from the School of History, Classics and Archaeology. The Creative Co-Production Dead Images is part of the project TRACES (Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritages with the Arts),(funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme

Dr Linda Fibiger, Senior Lecturer in Human Osteoarchaeology and part of the Dead Imagesteam, said that the decision to display the photograph is hoped to stimulate discussions on the past, present and future of these challenging collections.

Dead Images runs from 28 June to 26 July and includes a conference and free events.

Dead Images at Edinburgh College of Art

Event - Dead images: 'From touch to taboo: The ethics of handling human remains' with Dr Linda Fibiger

Event - Dead images: 'Searching for the person within' with Dr Linda Fibiger

TRACES: Transmitting Contentious Cultural Heritages with the Arts

Dr Linda Fibiger’s staff profile

Dr Linda Fibiger takes part in EU project