Can You Solve the Mystery Behind This Intricately Carved Skull?

Can You Solve the Mystery Behind This Intricately Carved Skull?

(Read the article on one page)

Experts from a wide array of organizations are examining an intricately carved skull discovered in an antique shop in Vienna in 2011. The skull, believed to be 300 years old, is completely covered with figures and symbols that seem to hold some sort of religious significance. Yet nobody is able to determine what that significance is, let alone who carved the skull, or the identity of the person to whom the skull once belonged.

Bits and Pieces about the Carved Skull’s Owners

The shopkeeper has said that the skull was sold to him by a man who said it belonged to one of his ancestors, a medical doctor who had traveled extensively throughout Asia. Once, he was able to provide medical assistance to an abbot in a Buddhist monastery in Tibet. In gratitude for his services, the abbot gave the doctor a number of relics, including the skull.

A little monastery in Tibet.

A little monastery in Tibet. (Antoine Taveneaux/ CC BY SA 3.0 ) It is said that an abbot in a Buddhist monastery gave a doctor the carved skull for providing medical assistance.

In August 2011, the new owner of the skull posted photos of it on the website forum ‘Asian Arts.’ He wrote:

“I got this skull in March 2011 from an antique 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 were 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.” (Klemens, 2011)

The Letters and Images Carved on the Skull

Further information about the practices that the Monk-Professor alluded to is incredibly limited. The letters carved into the skull’s jaw could be a Devanagari script that read “Om, Ma, Sa, Ma, Ta, Sa, Om, Da, Ma, Ta.” Others maintain that the writing is an example of the ancient script called lant’sa or the 7th-century Indian script ranja. Without definitively knowing the skull’s origin, it may be impossible to translate the letters.

Front view of the carved skull.

Front view of the carved skull. ( Klemens)

The images carved into the skull provide deeper insight. The two figures featured prominently on the top of the skull are Citipati, protective deities in some Buddhist traditions. Usually, one is male and one is female, but that cannot necessarily be discerned from this skull. Citipati are lords of the underworld and are traditionally depicted dancing wildly, the eternal dance of death.

Klemens, writing later on the same Asian Art Forum, commented with some new information he had gleaned from one of the experts he wrote to: “I was told they are depicted in the "bow and arrow"-posture, which is referring to the highest grade of the outer tantra” (Klemens, 2011).

Top view of the carved skull showing Citipati.

Top view of the carved skull showing Citipati. ( Klemens)

Another figure, the bird-like creature on one side of the skull, is believed to be Garuda, a deity in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Garuda is usually depicted as being part man, part eagle. He is the sworn enemy of the Nagas, a demon serpent race. Like an eagle, Garuda swoops down and snatches Nagas in his talons. On the skull, there are several squiggly lines that could be snake-demons and it definitely looks like there is one in the clutches of the bird-like creature on the side of the skull.

Garuda on the carved skull

Garuda on the carved skull. ( Klemens)

On the opposite side is a figure of Vajrapani, an ancient protector who is believed to have worked with Gautama Buddha. Vajrapani actually is part of a trio, the other two of which are not believed to be represented here. The first is Avalokitesvara, who represents the infinite compassion of all the buddhas, and the second is Manjusri, who represents the infinite wisdom of all the buddhas. Vajrapani represents the infinite power of the buddhas. There is also a female figure that has yet to be identified.

Comments

Due to the vertical forehead, small mastoid processes, round orbits, low nasal bridge, broad nasal opening, lack of a nasal sill and the very obvious alveolar prognathism, the skull appears to be that of a Negroid female.

Unfortunately, I think in order to do dental DNA the tooth has to be destroyed. I may be wrong, but I think they grind the tooth up to get at the pulp. On the other hand a forensic artist may be able to do a portrait. It might be difficult because there is no way to tell how much of the bone has been carved away in the process of decoration.

HMF

You can extract the pulp from a tooth by drilling a hole where it doesn't show, then tweaking out the contents of the pulp chamber.
Incidentally, the skull owner had an anterior open bite but this is unlikely to be significant.

Has anyone tried getting DNA from one of the teeth? They can put it back in after the pulp is extracted. Then they could have a forensic pathologist do a facial reconstruction on paper, which can be pretty accurate.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Inside one of the tunnels under Valetta, Malta.
Hordes of tourists visit the Mediterranean island of Malta each year to enjoy the above ground attractions the country has to offer such as breath-taking sandy beaches, historical buildings, and traditional cuisine. Yet, there is also a subterranean world hidden beneath the island’s surface. These are the rumored secret tunnels of Malta.

Myths & Legends

The Smelliest Women of Ancient Greece: Jason and the Argonauts Get Fragrant
We all know Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty, made sure that she was worshipped by punishing those who ignored her altars. One brief appearance of this wrath in the tale of Jason and the Argonauts turned into a particularly fragrant episode.

Ancient Places

Inside one of the tunnels under Valetta, Malta.
Hordes of tourists visit the Mediterranean island of Malta each year to enjoy the above ground attractions the country has to offer such as breath-taking sandy beaches, historical buildings, and traditional cuisine. Yet, there is also a subterranean world hidden beneath the island’s surface. These are the rumored secret tunnels of Malta.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article