Scientists were surprised when routine restoration works for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's famous diorama, the "Lion Attaquant un Dromadaire," revealed a secret that's been kept — for the past 150 years — on display.
Though the piece is already known to have taxidermy elements in the camel and lions, the human element in the diorama has since been believed to be a mere mannequin and nothing more. However, a CT scan revealed that the mannequin had a more human component to it in the form of a complete human skull.
Lion Attaquant un Dromadaire
The Carnegie Museum's popular display features a man atop a camel defending itself against what is believed to be a Barbary lion, now extinct in the wild, while a female lion lay on the ground.
The piece was made by the Verreaux brothers, specifically Edouard Verreaux, in 1867. It was then displayed at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867, then at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. There it stayed until Andrew Carnegie purchased the piece for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in 1899 for $50 where, until today, it has remained silent about its secret.
In all its years of existence, no record of the skull was ever made. This was problematic for scientists debating proper action over the skull. They find that it is unlikely for them to repatriate the skull to its country of origin given the little information that they currently have.
DNA testing is also seen as unlikely to give conclusive results, but the method is being used to see whether the lions on display are, indeed, Barbary lions.
The Verreaux Brothers' Reputation
The piece in question was first believed to be created by Jules Verreaux, but it was later known that it was his younger brother Edouard who indeed made the creation.
Though skilled in their craft, the Verreaux brothers were notorious for keeping vague and inaccurate archives, and have been alleged questionable manners of acquiring specimens.
They have even been rumored to falsify information to increase the sale value of their pieces. In this particular piece, scientists believe that the skull may have been stolen from catacombs in Paris.
Some of the brothers' works include Prints of Oceania, or geographical and historical description of all the islands of the Pacific Ocean and the continent of New Holland (1832) and Catalog of birds found in the house of E. Verreaux (1868).
Celebrating With A New Name
To mark the 150th year the "Lion Attaquant un Dromadaire" has been on display, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History partnered with the University of Pittsburgh to organize the celebration of the relocation and the new, more accurate name of the piece with a symposium.
From being called "Arab Courier Attacked By Lions," the piece will now be called "Lion Attacking A Dromedary." The new name addresses the previous question on accuracy of the human element of the piece: his garments did not accurately represent an Arab of the time.
The diorama is now on display at the Carnegie Museum in a more prominent place on the first floor, near the grand staircase.