Sunday, 29 January 2017

Restoration reveals human remains in famous Carnegie diorama

Donald Gilliland | Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, 10:24 a.m.

“Arab Courier Attacked by Lions,” among the oldest and most storied pieces of taxidermy on Earth, will return to public display Saturday at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History with a new name, a new location and new secrets revealed — including the fact it contains human remains.

“It's an amazing piece,” said Gretchen Anderson, conservator for the museum.

For nine months, Anderson and her team have been restoring the dramatic diorama - one of the very few to feature a human figure, which is riding a dromedary camel being attacked by what are believed to be Barbary lions, a species now extinct.

“We've talked to hundreds of people. Everybody remembers it. Everybody talks about it. Kids love it,” Anderson said. “This is very iconic of this place.”

The diorama was first displayed 150 years ago at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1867, where it created a sensation and won a gold medal. Two years later, it was sold to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where it was equally popular. It traveled to Philadelphia to be a featured exhibit in the Centennial Exposition of 1876, but was subsequently boxed and put into storage in New York until Andrew Carnegie purchased it in 1899 for his new museum in Pittsburgh, where it has remained on display ever since.

“For the first 30 years of its life, it was not under glass,” Anderson noted, and although it has been under glass since it arrived in Pittsburgh, the glass was not air tight.

Anderson and her team carefully removed the accumulated grime from mid-19th Century Paris, New York - “not known to be the cleanest city on Earth” - and the notorious air pollution of industrial Pittsburgh.


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