posted on Sep, 6 2014 @ 08:27 AM
The script on the jaw of the skull is not Nagari, but Lantsa. That suggests the skull could be Nepali in origin, not Tibetan.
I seriously doubt a Tibetan (i.e., trans-Himalayan) provenance for the skull -- I would say it is a modern (though quite artful) creation of Newari
origin in Nepal. The Newaris are fine artisans, when they want to be (and make no mistake, an item like this would fetch many hundreds or even
thousands of dollars on the black market in Nepal, where that's a lot of money).
The bone discoloration is an unreliable indicator of age in this case. It is however typical of tourist items (including bone) that originate in
Nepal. The artisans hang their creations -- bone carvings, wood carvings, cast metal statues, thangkha paintings or whatever -- in a smoke house like
so many hams, and smoke them and rub dust into the creosote, until they look old and well-handled. The three figures carved here -- Citipati (dancing
skeletons), Garuda and Vajrapani -- appear to have been chosen arbitrarily. This is obviously a tourist item, albeit a very well-made one.
The other examples shown here are clearly recent (and again, very well-crafted) designs, almost certainly of Nepali origin.
Having studied and practiced Tibetan Buddhism for forty years and also earned three advanced degrees in the subject, I can say with a high degree of
assurance there is no tradition of carving skulls, and the "Khenpo's" story is probably bunk. In particular, no Tibetan Buddhist would ever carve
the skull of a misguided human being in order to help them on the path. They would commission prayers from monks or lamas to help them in the bardo
(in-between state) after death and in the next life, and distribute the bones and flesh of the deceased to vultures to pay off their karmic debts and
earn merit for the deceased. That's what happens when somebody -- sinner or not -- dies in the Tibetan regions.
Occasionally the bones of a deceased person are used to make ritual implements -- such as a kangling (thighbone trumpet), in the practice of Chod or
Ego-severance. But then they are not carved, simply cut to size and used for meditational rituals.
Otherwise the personal possessions and (in particular) body parts of a dead person are considered taboo and inauspicious, and are always disposed of,
unless the deceased was an exceptionally holy being in which case the remains are usually cremated and items of clothing, etc., may be distributed as
relics to the faithful.
No Tibetan lama would keep an item like what you show here for any ritual purpose that I am aware of. But if a human skull has a "mtshan-ldan" or
auspiciously marked cranium, the lower portions (i.e. below the temple) are cut off, and the cranium is used as a ritual bowl or mandala-support. It
is not carved but kept au naturel, perhaps inlaid with silver.