100-Year-Old Sacred Congolese Statues Have Digestive Tracts
The headline pretty much says it all.
The Songye people, who live in the Democratic Republic of Congo, use the statues in fertility and war ceremonies.
Experts had long known that the priests inserted materials in to the statues’ mouths and other orifices “to enhance the figures’ magico-religious powers,” said Richard McCoy, a conservator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, to the Indy Star.
For example, McCoy said the statues had food, dirt struck by lightning and the teeth of albino men stuffed in their orifices.
But nobody expected a fully carved digestive tract inside the figures, McCoy told the Indy Star. “We were blown away.”
McCoy made the discovery when he put a 100-year-old Songye figure in an X-ray machine. After the initial discovery in 2006, he started visiting other museums to see if these digestive tracts are common.
And indeed they are: He discovered that some 42 Songye statues have carved out digestive tracts.
McCoy has now graduated from studying the digestive tracts in two-dimensions (using X-ray images) to studying the figures in three-dimensions (using computer tomography, or CT scans).
It’s not the first time conservation scientists have used CT to look at artifacts. They’ve used the technique for years to investigate cultural heritage objects ranging from ancient Egyptian cat mummies to 17th century globes of the world.