The image to the right, from the National Museum of Ireland, is of two seemingly unremarkable disks. These discs are gray in color are sub-oval, each have a hole at one end, and the edges are finished and rounded. These discs are actually amulets made from human cranial bones from an archaeological site in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. They were unearthed by an amateur Swiss archaeologist, Ernest E. Roulin, in the early twentieth century.
Roulin discovered these cranial amulets from a site in Neuchâtel that dates to the middle Neolithic period of western Switzerland (also know as the Cortaillod culture), and are estimated to have been carved around 3500BC. Archaeological sites in Port-Conty, La Lance and Concise, also in Switzerland, also produced cranial amulets.
There are two thoughts as to why the cranial amulets were worn. According to French anthropologist Paul Broca, the skulls of those who survived trephination had magical properties, so after the patient died portions of the skull were cut out and worn as amulets. He also argued that prehistoric doctors gave cranial amulets to high status individuals, because the bony jewelry provided good luck, deflected evil spirits, and protected individuals and their families.
But Roulin believed that the people who wore these talismans did so to either draw strength or protection from deceased, or in remembrance of loved ones. The superstition regarding cranial amulets lasted well into the sixteenth century. In fact some argue that the disputed mummified head of Henri IV does not belong to the French monarch because there aren’t holes in the cranium where doctors would have removed bone fragments to be worn as amulets.
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