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Subject:Old Tibetan Skull, richly engraved
Posted By: Klemens Sat, Aug 13, 2011 IP: 84.113.208.119

I got this skull in march 2011 from an antiques shop in Vienna, Austria. Showed it to several experts and organizations, such as the Institute for Tibetan and Buddhistic Studies in Vienna, the Museum of Natural History Vienna and the Völkerkunde Museum. The Tibetan letters and most of the symbols got deciphered, but no one ever heard of a skull like that. Except one Tibetan Khenpo (Monk-Professor), who said such skulls where carved a long time ago to take a curse off a family or to guide the soul of a mislead human being on the right path. The guy who sold it to the auction house where the antiques shop got it from said that one of his ancestors used to be a medical doctor in vienna. He travelled around Tibet and also gave medical treatment to an abbot of a buddhist monastery. That abbot gave the skull amongst other relics to that doctor as a reward for his services. Allegedly around 300 years old.

The Khenpo is the only one who seemed to know about skulls like that. Does anyone of you have more informations?
There is a symbol on the left side of the skull, four goat-heads coming out of a three-step platform. No one could tell me it's meaning, including Robert Beer (author of "The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs"). Please share your Thoughts and Wisdom with me!
(I'll include more pictures in a reply)

Many Thanks
Klemens







Subject:Re: Old Tibetan Skull, richly engraved
Posted By: Klemens Mon, Aug 15, 2011

3 more pictures







Subject:Re: Old Tibetan Skull, richly engraved
Posted By: Klemens Mon, Aug 15, 2011

last 3 pictures







Subject:Re: Old Tibetan Skull, richly engraved
Posted By: david kolb Wed, Oct 02, 2013

The letters on the jaw are in devanagari script. Its difficult to determine definitly what it says, but I think the first digit is an om, the second leter is ma, the third sa, then ma again, and then ta,and then sa, then an om symbol in the center front and then da followed by ma, then ta and the others I can't say. But I could be wrong as I'm not sure if the half slash on the bottom of some of the letters is decorative or indicative of a vowel such as a u but that would usually be a little loop at the bottom. But I would say its sanskrit. This artifact is Tibetan, you can tell by the Tibetan style om symbol on the front.

Subject:Re: Old Tibetan Skull, richly engraved
Posted By: Anthony J Allen Mon, Aug 15, 2011

Hi Klemens,
If you Google kapala you should find reference to Tibetan skull cups, usually made from a human skull and embellished with silver and semi-precious stones.

Most Western countries have the equivalent of a Human Remains Act, which make it an offense to own body parts. You may want to check that out.
Regards
Tony

Subject:Re: Old Tibetan Skull, richly engraved
Posted By: Klemens Tue, Aug 16, 2011

Hi Tony,
skull caps are widely known to be made in tibet, nepal and india, but i couldn't find any report about complete human skulls being engraved in the himalayas. no expert that i wrote to didn't know either.

i only know about austria for sure, and you can bet i did my research on that. the austrian human remains act is for human body parts that are not older than 100 years. older remains can be seen as antiquities, especially if they have any substantial artistic value. just think of all the relics of saints that are found in churches all around europe or even just the human skulls that we used to draw in art class. as far as i understand, it's the same case in the rest of the western world. in the USA, you can even buy complete skeletons in specialized stores.

amongst the ones who i showed the skull to, the tibetan khenpo was the one who found it less special to have the skull of a dead human being in his hands. in buddhisms death is nothing scary and a normal part of life. i asked the monk and other experts if there is a monastery who would like to reclaim such relics, but as i said, buddhists don't make so much fuss about death as we do in the western countries, and to them a bone is just a bone. for most of us it is much more. and you can be sure, that remains of a human being are in the right hands.

regards
Klemens

Subject:Re: Old Tibetan Skull, richly engraved
Posted By: rat Fri, Aug 19, 2011

no wisdom to share but that's an amazing looking object. gives me shivers but seems well worked.

Subject:Re: Old Tibetan Skull, richly engraved
Posted By: Klemens Sat, Aug 20, 2011

thanks for your appreciation. i felt a bit like i posted in the wrong forum. attached a new pic from the forehead, giving a good look at the cittipati, lords of the graveyard. i was told they are depicted in the "bow and arrow"-posture, which is referring to the highest grade of the outer tantra.
have a nice time!



Subject:Re: Old Tibetan Skull, richly engraved
Posted By: Roger Tue, Dec 27, 2011

You might want to contact Chris Buckley (author of the book Tibetan Furniture by Chris Buckley) who may be able to shed some more light on this. Email me offline and I can send you his email address.

Subject:Re: Old Tibetan Skull, richly engraved
Posted By: RogerV Sat, Aug 18, 2012

I have seen a number of Tibetan skulls which were the dome only, and used for cups. I have not seen one such as yours and wonder how the jaw is fastened to the skull without ligaments. Cement or pins?

Subject:Re: Old Tibetan Skull, richly engraved
Posted By: Klemens Sun, Aug 19, 2012

There were small holes drilled in the mandible and the maxilla. Some of my skulls are held together by with thin leather strings, others with wire. they probably have been exchanged over the time

Subject:Re: Old Tibetan Skull, richly engraved
Posted By: Linus Wed, Aug 22, 2012

Dear Klemens,

Such a haunting artwork, very intriguing to look upon. Imagine it staring back at you at home all day and night.

With an easy online search, the subject doesn’t appear exceptionally unique. Included pics and one link below to several examples of Tibetan carved whole skulls. Some are advertised as modern reproductions, while others are supposedly centuries old.

Since the symbols serve a religious purpose, I suggest to keep asking eminent Buddhist lamas. They’re the most qualified to explain their intricate beliefs and rituals.

Another angle to explore is the provenance. Allegedly three hundred years ago, a Viennese doctor traveled to Tibet, where he saved the life of a monastery abbot. Tibet was a rather isolated country in the 1700s, with occasional visits by Christian missionaries (check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_European_exploration_in_Tibet). Perhaps records do show an Austrian accompanying the priests, or maybe not.

Hope this helps your investigation. Best of luck.








URL Title :Skull


Subject:Re: Old Tibetan Skull, richly engraved
Posted By: Klemens Sat, Aug 25, 2012

Thank you for your post.
I found a handful of other skulls in the internet which appear to be authentic and old. They are not "unique", but the Mauritius post office stamps aren't either. I posted the request well over a year ago, so I talked to several monks already.
Thank you for the wikipedia-link!
May I ask you where you found the picture in the middle? Do you have a link for that?
Thank you very much
Klemens

Subject:Re: Old Tibetan Skull, richly engraved
Posted By: Linus Sat, Aug 25, 2012

Hello again Klemens,

Following up on your questions, added the link to the website with middle pic. It describes the skull's usage, but not that piece's provenance specifically.

Regarding the Austrian doctor's story, you mentioned that was the attribution given by the antique shop seller in your post. Not surprising if you can't find any historical proof, because only the rare Catholic missionary made it to Tibet in the early 1700s.

Best of luck.

URL Title :Link


Subject:Re: Old Tibetan Skull, richly engraved
Posted By: john Sanders Sun, Aug 05, 2012

I did a little research into the bone people of tibet or the bone religion, men who used human skulls and bones to make a large aray of religious artifacts and ritual objects etc. Many examples of these bone artifacts are held at the San Francisco Asian art museum.

Subject:Re: Old Tibetan Skull, richly engraved
Posted By: Kit Fri, Dec 20, 2013

Hello Klemens, I sent you an email in regards to this skull. I'm uncertain if it found it's way to you. Could you please email me. Kit.king.art@gmail.com I have a few inquiries about your Tibetan skull. I will keep an eye out in my spam folder too I case Iit doesn't make it to my inbox. Thank you.


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