Comparative Studies in Society and History

Research Article

Skulls and Scientific Collecting in the Victorian Military: Keeping the Enemy Dead in British Frontier Warfare

Simon J. Harrisona1

a1 School of Psychology, University of Ulster

As a result of colonial wars with indigenous peoples, especially in Africa and North America, a distinction seems to have arisen in Western military culture between ‘civilized’ and ‘savage’ enemies. The behavior of civilized enemies in battle appeared rational and constrained by rules. Savage enemies, on the other hand, evinced emotional and unregulated violence. Above all, they were distinguished by an excessive brutality they seemed to display towards their enemies in customs such as cannibalism and the taking of body parts as trophies (see, for example, Marks 1970: 246). In short, the differences between civilized people and savages in warfare were especially evident in their behavior toward enemy dead.


Acknowledgments: I thank Ken Gillings and Ron Locke for their helpful information on the relics of Bambata, and on the photograph of the army officer with the skull.