In 1965, anthropologist Guy Tillmans collected around thirty skulls from baobab trees in the Serer country of Senegal and conserved them at the Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire in Dakar. Fifty years later, a collaboration with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research aimed at sequencing the microbiome on these human remains to document the changes in food and health diets. How does this collaboration between Senegalese archaeologists and Canadian microbiologists change the value of human remains? How does it include the source communities in producing their results? How do differences in burial practices reveal differences in social status?
Frédéric Keck, anthropologist and historian of philosophy, is a member of the Laboratory of Social Anthropology at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and currently visiting professor at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin. His research investigates the role of microbes in mediating relations between human and non-human beings. After studying zoonotic pathogens in the context of avian influenza in Asia, he now explores relations between the living and the dead through a collaboration with African museums on the microbiome in human remains. He explores how microbes act as signs of environmental changes, and how non-human beings act as sentinels when they carry these microbes. His latest book is Avian Reservoirs: Virus Hunters and Birdwatchers in Chinese Sentinel Posts (2020).