Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Learning from the best: beadworking with the Maasai in Olduvai

Learning the art of beadwork from the Maasai in Olduvai Gorge was one of the highlights for the OGAP conservation team this season (see details about our team here).

The team was very interested in engaging more directly with local Maasai women to learn about Maasai culture from them. First-hand understanding of manufacturing techniques is essential for a conservator's work, as is a deeper understanding of the cultural significance they carry. At Olduvai we learned from the best. And it was so much fun!

Colourful beads and other materials were brought from the Maasai Market in Arusha (Image by R Peters)
We organized several beadworking sessions and were introduced to the basic techniques. A small fund was provided by the UCL Conservation and Development Research Network, and beads and other materials were brought from the Maasai Market in Arusha. We had several sessions with Pendo Melau and Nairoshi Zebeday. Pendo and Nairoshi came over to the Leakey Camp at the end of the day and patiently showed us what to do! Needless to say they had to undo/correct our work very often!

We also had the chance to observe Siteyo Lembele and Sekwai Babai beadworking (they were working for the OGAP excavation but would sometimes come over to our lab during their lunch break). Siteyo and Sekwai showed us their techniques, and sold the end-products of the demonstrations.

As you probably know, beadworking is exclusively carried out by women in Maasai contexts. They start learning as little girls and devote a lot of attention to the use of colours and creation of designs - at some point they will have developed their own personal styles (usually influenced by their mothers). Their skills achieve nothing less than perfection and they are very critical of small defects.  It was fascinating to see how the four of them produced completely different patterns even though they were using exactly the same raw materials.

Here are the wonderful Pendo Melau,  Sekwai Babai and Nairoshi Zebeday discussing different techniques to produce a necklace (in the Laetoli Lab at the Leakey Camp).  (Image by Eri Ohara-Anderson)
Siteyo Lembele and Sekwai Babai showed us how to make beautiful bracelets and necklaces, and also how to wear them! (Image by R Peters)

In the following sequence Sekwai Babai shows the final steps for a perfect bracelet. Feel free to reproduce the bracelet at home, if you dare! Be patient, be brave, and start again if you have to!  You probably will!  ;-) 

OGAP Conservation 2014

Starting from the top left corner: Carmen Martin Ramos (in black jumper), Elizabeth Diaz, Eri Ohara-Anderson, Ephraim Lucas Tarmo, Isack Faustin Lyimo, Ngonyani Lihuni and Renata Peters. Kristen Welch (Teaching Assistant from Colorado University, seen on top left corner) was not working in conservation but she was in the lab a lot!
The 2014 OGAP Conservation season has been very exciting and successful. We have just finished our work and will add more details here soon.  But first of all, we would like to introduce you to everybody who contributed to this very successful season!

The team was headed by Renata Peters (Coordinator of the MA in Principles of Conservation at the UCL Institute of Archaeology and the UCL Conservation and Development Research Network). Eri Ohara-Anderson (currently on the UCL MSc Conservation for Archaeology and Museums, year 2) assisted managing the team and the magnificent workload! We were  fortunate to count once again on the expert help of our colleague Dan Mainoya (conservator and curator at the Natural History Museum, Arusha).
Dan Mainoya (conservator and curator at the Natural History Museum, Arusha)

We are extremely happy to have added Tanzanian apprentices to our team this year: Isack Faustin Lyimo, Ephraim Lucas Tarmo and Ngonyani Lihuni did brilliant work with us!

Highlights to the season were added by the help of conservator Elizabeth Diaz (OGAP), and conservation enthusiast (hopefully future conservator) Carmen Martin Ramos (OGAP). We also counted on  the help of Jesuit Temba (Tanzania Antiquities Directorate) for a few days! And also the precious help from IFR students Georgina de Barros, Trevor Keevil, Matthew Muttart, Victoria Sluka,   Gabriela de la Torre and Ben Zunkeller. Last but not least, we also had the eventual help of the wonderful Angeliki Theodoropoulou! Wow, this made a mighty team!!!  Thanks so much to you all - it was a privilege and also a lot of fun to work with you!

Here are some of our people in action:

Renata is looking happy with her fossils
Eri Ohara-Anderson - busy bee!

Isack Faustin Lyimo worked on a number of complex artefacts
 Ngonyani Lihuni working with a rotary tool 

Ephraim Lucas Tarmo became very interested in scapulas
The extra help from Carmen Martin Ramos and Elizabeth Diaz was essential for our work 
Jesuit Temba working on fossilised bone

Ben Zunkeller, Georgina de Barros and Victoria Sluka (IFR students) working on recently excavated bone

As you can see, Matthew Muttart (IFR student) was really not very bored by this difficult job (removing concretion from recently excavated lithic). 
Gabriela de la Torre and Trevor Keevil (IFR students) just after accomplishing a difficult mission (Eri on the far right)
And finally, our wonderful Angeliki Theodoropoulou doing some sediment removal!

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