Last weekend I had a fantastic afternoon meeting people meeting human bones for the first time.
It was a free, drop in workshop organised as part of the Em-Re-Un New Bohemia exhibition in St. Margaret's Church of Art in Norwich.
I don't think I will ever get used to the excitement of watching people encounter their first chance to touch a real human skeleton. Often, the experience comes in a number of stages:
1. Is that ... is that... really?... is it real?
2. Can I... is it okay to... touch it? Really?
3. (hesitant reaching out, last second "should I, shouldn't I?")
4. then the first touch - and the look of surprise and wonder...
5. ...and quickly matched by touching their own face to compare the bones to their own skull
6. and a flood of curiosity, looking in the nooks and crannies
7. and asking questions and increasing comfort with just holding the bones
The workshop was busy the whole day; many people had just wandered in for the art exhibition and then become interested, and before they knew it, were sitting down studying the sex differences in skulls against a worksheet. And realising that you can (just about) feel the sharpness of the eye orbit ridge in live humans as well as skulls (which led to not one, not two, but three anecdotes about popping eyes out of the socket!)
But again emphasises that when people can get hands on with bones, they get hands on with their body too - drawing the parallels between the bones they can see and the internal structure of their meat sack that they can feel. I think it is a genuine privilege that I can witness people having this experience and share their joy at confronting mortality as well as understanding their bodies better. (And if you think you know your body well, let me present you with two pelvis bones and see if you can orient them right first time!)
And finally, once they are comfortable with handling bones, then comes the memento mori posing:
As this skull is now, so shall you be.
Nothing helps you come face to face with your own mortality like a human skull.