Establishing context and continuity for the use of human remains in Tibetan ritual objects: Conservation as research methodology

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This paper will describe the methods and findings of a material and technical study of Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhist ritual objects made with human remains. This work combines the technical examination and documentation of objects in museum collections with fieldwork amongst practitioner communities, a study of the region’s iconographic traditions, and a historical reading of reli- gious texts and commentaries. This examination of Buddhist and tantric ritual instruments includes skulls used as vessels, a horn or trumpet made from a human femur, a double-sided hand drum made with skulls, and carved ornaments worn on the waist, chest, head, arms, and legs that are made of human bone and facilitate the practitioner’s ritual embodiment of certain types of deities.

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American Institute for Conservation
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