At the Musée du Quai Branly, Jacques Chirac, of patients of another age are delivered to the scanner: the 150 statuettes of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, will-they, as the hope of the researchers, all their secrets? One by one, the first statuettes are carried out with infinite care and laid flat on a table. The scanner moves above them, projecting on it beams red.
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All the staff is kept away in order not to be irradiated. The operation for each object lasts for about ten minutes, but only a few seconds, the scan itself, are decisive. Even if the old objects are scanned since several years in different museums of the world, this is the first time that a medical scanner handheld (a device 1.5 ton) is moved in a museum.
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Philippe Charlier, the new director of the department of research and education at the Quai Branly, comes and goes with precision, ensuring the transport of each object, with a passion visible which reads in the next. Its objective: to apply the biomedical techniques of the more accomplished “the objects of the populations of the distant”.
With this operation, launched on Monday, what we hope to uncover is huge and filled with mysteries and sacred, as some civilizations have disappeared with their puzzles when others are perpetuated, sometimes poorly known. These objects have been functions of magic and ritual, and their treatment should be respectful and delicate.
A better understanding anthropological
The questions are multiple: what is the skull is located under the face surmodelé? What led interiors connecting the mouth, the navel and the anus of this statue? What are the sacrificial materials have been filed there? What possible old restorations on it? What is there below these crusts of oils, grease, sometimes animal blood? Why these scrapings? What stash magic contains the belly of this fetish? How have been set, those shells on the skull?
And the oldest african mask known, of straw bark, horns, beef, shellfish, and seeds, one of the jewels of the parisian museum of the arts premiers, will he be scanned: his horns are they empty or full?
even this “boli” black in Mali, the shape of the mass may suggest a buffalo, in the blood of animals coagulated, wood, wax, earth, vegetable fiber: what is it made of? What a magical charge in her womb? It is probably the type of magical item is the most respected in sub-saharan Africa.
For four days, 60 statuettes and ritual objects from Oceania, 50 from Africa, 36 in the Americas and 4 from Asia must be reviewed. It was necessary to have a visibility of internal objects of little or not movable due to their fragility.
In some of these statues, the researchers believe discovering teeth, fossils, crystals, jewelry, seeds, fragments of clothing or shrouds of the important characters. “This is an autopsy virtual. This research should contribute to better knowledge of anthropological of the manufacture of the object and its use, and to regain a little bit of an intangible heritage,” says dr Charlier.
At 41 years old, this forensic pathologist, anthropologist, and paléopathologiste, who took care of migrants and prisoners, has chosen to open a new page of her life taking care of “patients atypical”: skeletons, mummies, objects of art first.
An interdisciplinary team, involving anthropologists, ethnologists, archaeologists, art historians, botanists, zoologists will study for one year the cuts and 3D reconstructions that allow these scans. The results will be made public in journals of reference.
● An autopsy on the scanner to unlock the secrets of the figurines in the museum Jacques Chirac