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Human skin, tattooed with inscription, France, 1830-1900

‘SOUVENIR DU SAHARA’ is tattooed onto human skin. The skin was once owned by Parisian surgeon Dr Villette. He worked in military hospitals and collected and preserved hundreds of samples from the bodies of dead French soldiers. Algeria became part of the French empire in 1830. Expeditions were mounted into the Sahara desert over the following decades. These assessed the feasibility of laying railroad tracks to extend trade routes. We will never know what part the tattooed man played in the history of North Africa. However, clearly he wanted to immortalise these events. This tattoo is one of a large group bought for Henry Wellcome’s medical collection by one of his agents, Captain Johnston-Saint.

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Glossary: human remains

term created as part of the NMSI human remains policy (from April 2007); Other terms used are 'blood' and 'human hair'

Glossary: tattoo

Marking the skin with a design by puncturing it and inserting pigment. On humans a tattoo is often a form of decoration, but on animals it is usually a form of marking or branding.

Glossary: post mortem

A medical procedure that consists of an examination to discover the cause and manner of a death.

Glossary: tattooing

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