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Ivory model of a skull and snake, Europe, undated

Carved from ivory, this model shows a human skull with the lower jaw missing and a snake coiled around the top. Not much is known about what this object was used for although it may have been a memento mori – literally a reminder of death and the shortness of life. The skull was the symbol of death from the 1500s onwards. Previously death was represented as a skeleton accompanied by a living victim.

Object number:

A641323

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Glossary:

Glossary: skull

The skeleton of the head of a vertebrate animal, including the brain case, or cranium, and the bones and cartilages of the face and mouth. The skull can be subdivided into two parts: the cranium and the mandible. The human skull is made up from 22 bones.

Glossary: anatomy

A branch of medical science concerned with the structure of living organisms.

Glossary: memento mori

Symbols intended to remind the viewer of death. Memento mori are often objects such as skulls or hourglasses, but can also be written inscriptions.