Friday, 19 May 2017

Object Assessment of A.0047: Northern Nigeria knife and sheath, in UCL Ethnographic Collections

A.0047 is a set of two pieces: a knife and its sheath.

The knife is symmetrical, consisting of blade and hilt. It has a non-decorative plain blade, sharpened on both edges, narrowing down from the connection part with the hilt to the relatively sharp tip. The blade is mainly dark grey, relatively hard and tough, made by iron-alloy (most possibly steel). It may have been smelted in a shaft furnace and then smithed and forged, which left hammer marks on the blade surface. At the connection part of the blade and the hilt, there are two pieces of copper-alloy (brass or bronze) welded on both sides of the blade. The hilt can be divided into two parts, a flat wooden grip and an ‘umbrella’ shaped tin or tin-alloy pommel. The grip was made through several steps: crosscutting a cylindrical log from a tree branch, carving it to make the interval ridges and depressions, then gilding a very thin piece of tin-alloy at the connection part to the blade, and finally painting with pigments.

The sheath, with soft tufts of leather thongs and a designed ribbon, was decorated with various geometrical designs on both sides. Due to the hair follicle pattern, the usage of various animal skins and the main livestock types in Northern Nigeria, most possibly the sheath was made of calfskin through cleaning, tanning, cutting, thonging and carving (Douglas, 1956: 64; Kite and Thomson, 2006: 11-21; Shaw, 1978: 17-20).

A.0047 was most possibly made by the local people for daily usage or trade. During or after the colonial period (1870-1910), it may have been collected and brought back by European colonial travellers who may have thought that the object represented the indigenous industries of Northern Nigeria (Anozie, 1998: 255-257). The strips of newspapers sticking on both sides of the blade can be used to interpret that. Then, A.0047 was donated to UCL Ethnographic Collections in the mid-20th century. It is an important example of material culture of Northern Nigeria and studied by researchers and students in UCL Ethnographic Collections now.

The overall condition of A.0047 is acceptable, but the soft tufts of leather thongs on the sheath are in active deterioration condition and need to be conserved with a high priority. The structure and decoration surfaces of both the knife and sheath are in good condition. Iron-alloy corrosion is on both sides near the edges of the blade. The leather sheath body was a little bit deteriorated and abraded, with lots of dirt and dust accumulated in patterns.

Anozie, F. N., (1998). An archaeological study of ironworking at Umundu: the decline and continuity of an indigenous tration. In: K. Welser, ed. Historical Archaeology in Nigeria, 1st ed. Africa World Press, Inc., pp. 243-258.
Douglas, G. (1956). Survey of the production of hides, skins and rough-tanned leathers in India, Pakistan, Ceylon and Africa. 1st ed. Egham: British Leather Manufacturers' Research Association.
Kite, M. and Thomson, R. (2006). Conservation of leather and related materials. 1st ed. Oxford: Elsevier Ltd.
Shaw, T., (1978). Nigeria Its Archaeology and Early History. 1st ed. London: Thames and Hudson.
UCL MUSEUMS & COLLECTIONS, (2017). UCL Ethnographic Collections' Online Catalogue. Available online: [Accessed 25th.Apr. 2017].

This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2016-17), one of the core courses of the UCL MA  Principles of Conservation. As part of their assessed work for this course, students were asked to investigate objects from the UCL Ethnography Collections at the UCL Department of Anthropology. Here they present a summary of their main conclusions. We hope you enjoy our work! Comments are most welcome.

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