By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
About 150 years ago a French taxidermist named Jules Verreaux created a diorama named Lions Attacking a Dromedary, which portrays a man battling two lions.
Since it was first placed on the display, many have marveled at how realistic the man’s face was, and a discovery made as to what’s really under the plaster made it clear why it appeared so lifelike.
In 1869, two years after this taxidermy diorama also known as Arab Courier Attacked by Lions was created, it was shipped off to the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
The display shows a knife wielding man fighting off now extinct Barbary lions, while riding his camel through the desert. On the ground, lays a dead female lion the traveler killed. The display is a depiction of North African culture.
Investigators originally thought the man featured in the display was a mannequin with human teeth.
In 1899, the exhibit found its current home, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania which only paid $50 for the diorama.
In April 2016, the exhibit was slated for restoration in order to fix the damage caused by being in a non-airtight environment.
Scans during the restoration process of the diorama showed the man's skull was real. There were no archives that made mention of a human skull being part of the exhibit, which is what makes the discovery so gruesome.
X-rays of the animals have found neck bones, some vertebrae and other bones scattered throughout. The camel still has its original ribs, which are attached to a spine consisting of mostly wood.
A conservator at the museum suspected that someone in Paris ventured down into the Catacombs under the city, stole one of the skulls and then used it in the exhibit before it was opened to the public for the first time, at the Paris Exposition Universelle.
The renovated exhibit features updated captions referencing the new findings, adding that there is ongoing research to learn more about the history behind the display. Researchers can't return the skull to its tomb because its origin is still a mystery, unfortunately DNA testing was unable to give officials more information about where the skull may have come from.
From 2020 to 2021, the exhibit was not displayed despite its popularity. In a 2015 marketing poll, it came in second behind the “Dippy” dinosaur statue outside the museum.
The creator of this display Jules Verreaux (1807-1873) was well known for his morbid work, as he taxidermied the complete body of an African tribesman in 1830.
In 1831, while travelling in modern-day Botswana, Verreaux witnessed the burial of a 27-year-old African bushman. Verreaux and his brother returned to the burial site under cover of night to dig up the African's body where he retrieved the skin, the skull and a few bones.
Verreaux intended to ship the body back to France, and so prepared and preserved the African warrior’s corpse by using metal wire as a spine, wooden boards as shoulder blades and newspaper as a stuffing material. Then he shipped the body to Paris along with a batch of stuffed animals in crates.
In 1831, the African’s body appeared in a showroom at No. 3, Rue Saint Fiacre. In 1916, it was acquired by the Darder Museum of Banyoles located in northeastern Spain.
It became known as Negro of Banyoles.
The body remained in the museum without controversy until 1991, and in 2000 the remains were returned to Botswana where it was buried in a park.
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Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer