Monday, 30 April 2018

J91 manilla from UCL Ethnographic Collections

Manillas have been in use in southern Nigeria since the end of 15th century, at first mostly used as ornaments. By the 16th century, manillas started being used as a mean of exchange for slaves, spices, ivory, and palm produce by the European merchants. The Dutch and English merchants followed the footsteps of the Portuguese and adopted manillas as means of payment. This manilla was compared to typical models produced in Birmingham and Bristol starting from the end of 18th century that were solely produced for the West African trade (Figures 1 and 2). In the comparison of the dimensions and shape, it mostly resembles the Okhopo type.
Figure 1 - J91 Manilla
Figure 2 - Nine typical manilla models produced in Birmingham compared to J91 manilla outline


After the cessation of the manilla use in 1948, most of them remained in use for ceremonial purposes. The ordinance in 1948 declared that manillas should be withdrawn from circulation and an arrangement was made that the state would pay a fixed price for the exchange. Towards the end of the 19th century introduction of English coins decreased the popularity and use of manillas, and in 1894 the importation came to an end since it was no longer profitable to manufacture them. 

Analysis conducted on manillas in the first half of 20th century has shown that the chemical composition was around 65% copper and a very high amount of lead, about 25% (Table 1). Birmingham manillas were cast using the sand casting process, which can be confirmed with the visible casting seams on the manilla (Figure 3).

Table 1 - Alloy composition of manillas gathered at the first half of 20th century
Figure 3 - Casting seams visible on the J91 manilla

This manilla was presented to the UCL Ethnographic Collections by D.A.F. Shute. It is stated that it was found in Long Juju, South Nigeria (Figures 4 and 5). When this object was acquired it was still being used as currency but the exact date of acquisition is unknown. 
Figure 4 - West Africa (the part where manilla was acquired)
Figure 5 - The area of British Cameroons (red circle indicates the locations where manillas were used the longest and red dot shows where Long Juju in Archukwu was located)

This manilla is labelled as “J91 manilla modern” and through the visual examination it can be inferred that it is whole, has no decoration and the surface is uneven with some corrosion spots, cracks and dirt layer (Figure 6). 
Figure 6- Condition of the J91 manilla's surface

This manilla is a part of teaching collection and as such, is expected to be frequently handled. 
In the past African societies saw a lot of significance in the shininess of copper and brass, its aesthetic value. Taking the present and the past significance into account, it can be inferred that the values of this object have changed. Intervention to show the manilla’s aesthetic value might be considered, but as it is not exhibited, remedial conservation is not necessary and its condition can be monitored through preventive conservation.


Figures and Tables sources:
Figure 2 - From Ballarini, R. (2009). The perfect form: On the track of African tribal currency. Milano, Italy: Africa Curio Sas.
Table 1 - From Johansson, S. (1967). Nigerian currencies: manillas cowries and others. Second edition. Norrkoping, Sweden: Alfa-Tryck.
Figure 4 - From Ballarini, R. (2009). The perfect form: On the track of African tribal currency. Milano, Italy: Africa Curio Sas.
Figure 5 - From Einzig, P. (1966). Primitive money: In its Ethnological, Historical and Economic aspects. Oxford: Pergamon Press Ltd. (Original work published in 1949).

This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2017-18), 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 EthnographyCollections 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.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Object Assessment of a Hopi Rattle


Object Assessment of a Hopi Rattle from the UCL Ethnography Collections



This object (K.0016)—hereafter referred to as a ‘rattle’— was donated by Daryll Forde, a professor of anthropology at UCL from 1945-1969 (Figs 1-4). It was originally classified as an instrument from the Hopi tribe of North America.
From the research gleaned on the social/ritual value of similar rattles belonging to members of the Hopi tribe, the design on this rattle indeed seems particular to the Hopi but not to a specific occasion. This rattle is called a kachina (‘spirit’) rattle, and its various parts are visually symbolic. A round gourd with flat sides symbolises earth, and the handle symbolises the axis on which the world turns. The crosshatched motif around the outside of the body symbolises the constellation of the ‘hero twins’ (as they are called in Hopi mythology), who keep the earth revolving. The geometric design is a four-sided representation of the Milky Way, and at its centre is earth. There is therefore a double depiction of earth in this rattle: one in the round shape of the gourd and another in the dot at the centre of the four-point design.
This rattle is sometimes used in ‘kachina dances’ when re-enactments of spirits and their known behaviours in stories are acted out. The rarity of this instrument is difficult to determine and may warrant consultation and discussion with member(s) of the Hopi tribe.
Because the Hopi tribe, along with other Native American tribes, have been threatened with loss of their heritage or the remembrance of it over time, this rattle may be considered important because the Hopi seek to preserve their culture and knowledge of it. Loss of cultural practices is one concern of the Hopi, and this rattle, imbued with symbolism that pertains to distinctly to Hopi motifs and beliefs, represents part of that heritage that is in danger of being lost. As long as tangible testaments of Hopi culture such as this rattle exist and receive scholarly attention, there is more likelihood that Hopi customs and artefacts will not be neglected or forgotten. 
To that end, however, if this rattle carries such a significant amount of historic and cultural value, which will only increase over time as Hopi traditions become more and more threatened to be lost, the possibility that tribe members desire its repatriation may arise in the future. Further consideration of the anthropology collection’s policies regarding return and repatriation may be necessary.
             




This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2017-18), 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 EthnographyCollections 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.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Object Assessment: Leatherworking Awl from Igboland, Nigeria

Object Assessment: 
Leatherworking Awl from Igboland, Nigeria


This object comes from the UCL Ethnographic Collections, based in the Anthropology Department. 

It is labelled as Iron Lancet with Wooden Haft with the inventory number: J.0099.

    Figure 1: Image of the Leatherworking Awl - J.0099

The tool is 8.1cm in length and 0.8cm in width. The object consists of two main elements, an iron blade and a wooden haft. 

The blade is magnetic and blackened in colour. This colour suggests a lack of refinement during the melting process. The blade is thin, 0.2 cm, in the shape of a rhombus, has a blunt edge and appears to have been hammered and then cut to form the shape. 

The wooden haft may have been cut from the Ube tree, often used for making tool handles in Nigeria (Sousa, 2017). It varies from dark to lighter colours. 

    Figure 2: Two images of J.0099 showing how the blade enters the haft. Notice the cracks in the haft in the right image.

An X-Ray was taken to see how the blade enters the haft. It appears to be pointed on both ends suggesting the blade is pushed into the soft wood, which may be soaked. This will then dry potentially causing the cracking where the blade meets the haft.

    Figure 3: X- Ray of J.0099 showing how the blade is pointed on both ends.

The object comes from Igboland in Nigeria. It was donated to the collection by M.D.W Jeffreys an Anthropologist who spent time there in the 1930s. Due to the nature of tool use and how often they can break this suggests that the age of the object may also be from that time. The tool is very similar to leather working awls from Western Africa that are used to make holes in leather to allow for stitching. Tools such as these often have multiple uses and are sometimes also used by carpenters.

    Figure 4: A selection of awls from the toolkit of Soninke leatherworker Makan Yafa. Kayes, Mali, 1983. (Frank, 1998).


The haft has a number of chips indicated by the lighter colours which may be caused by the way it is stored, lying on top of other objects. The blade has orange coloured areas which suggest oxidation has occurred at some point. The point of the blade is slightly misshapen which was potentially caused during manufacture.

      Figure 5: A close up of the blade showing the misshapen tip.


The object is not actively friable and overall is in good condition. It is important to improve the storage conditions and to create a mount with card and plastazote to stop abrasions occurring. A stable relative humidity of 40%RH is recommended. 

References:

Frank, B. E., 1998. Mande Potters and Leatherworkers Art and Heritage in West Africa. London: Smithsonian Institution Press

Sousa G. 2017. Native Plants Of Nigeria. Retrieved on 25 April 2018 from World Wide Web: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/native-plants-of-nigeria.html



This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2017-18), 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 EthnographyCollections 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.

Object Assessment Project - 
Silver Commodity Currency Bracelet

This silver bracelet was made by the largest ethnic group in north-western Nigeria: the Hausa people. According to the records it was made from silver Maria Theresa Dollars and the accession number designates it as body decoration and currency.


Fig. 1 two views of the silver bracelet (outer and inner views)


The C shaped bracelet is decorated with geometrical patterns at both ends; these consist of several rows of circular motifs, showing pairs of concentric rings flanked at both ends by rows of parallel lines. At each end of the bracelet there are triangular marks which could indicate the manufacturer's mark. The manufacture technique seems to be casting and considering the sharpness of the geometrical designs on the outer surface, it is most probable that they were stamped at a later stage. There is a big fissure on the inner part of the bracelet, this could have been caused after the casting process either by bending the bracelet into shape or by clamping it to stamp the decorations; this mechanical process could have compressed the metal to the point where it would have cracked.
Fig. 2 Details of the bracelet's marks

The artefact itself could be said to be an important source of information, Silver has anti-bacterial properties and this bracelet has been polished to a high shine, even though it is not possible to establish whether it was used by a man or a woman its relative heaviness may indicate that its original owners must have considered this object quite precious since silver was and is still an expensive material.

In the West currency bracelets also known as Manillas are a tangible reminder of the Atlantic slave trade and it could be argued that this artefact had a value as currency, however this object might have also been valued for other qualities such as its aesthetics; the way it looks and shines or the particular odour of the metal. Also, it could have been worn to accentuate arm movements during tribal celebrations or to draw attention by the particular sound it made when rustling with other bracelets. In addition to being a symbol of great wealth it could also have spiritual and social significance. Jewellery such as this may have revealed peoples’ social status, their family, and their tribe.  In the context of a museum it also represents the history of a culture as well as the development of colonialism. ‘The key to all these issues is to understand that, in a modern view of material culture; objects constitute as well as reflect relationships’ (Hurcombe, 2007, p.103).


Hurcombe, L. (2007) Archaeological Artefacts as Material Culture, Routledge, New York

This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2017-18), 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 EthnographyCollections 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.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Object Assessment Project : Medicine bottle from Igboland




Figure 1: Photo of the object standing up and orifice.

The object comes from the UCL Ethnography Collections with the inventory number: M.0095.

This is a small bronze bottle (5 cm height and 70.53 gr weight) which originates from central Nigeria, Igboland from Onitsha province, according to the written label tied to the neck of the bottle. This artefact seems to be an African medicine bottle. It might have been brought to the UK by MDW Jeffreys (a famous anthropologist) between 1934 and 1954.

The bottle may be made of bronze or brass, because of the typical colour of the patina.
Its base is not totally round nor flat, which makes difficult to get it standing up right. In addition, it has no seam, which might confirm the use of the lost wax casting technique.


Figure 2: x-ray of the bottle, standing up and orifice

Also, there is a 1 cm hole on the body of the bottle. This is former to the making process and prior to any act of conservation. It seems to have been fixed with a non-metallic material, maybe organic, such as terracotta. 

Four black residues remain on the neck and the body of the bottle, maybe some former glue traces.



Figure 3: The bottle under normal and UV light.

Figure 4: Bottle neck and shoulder view under microscope.

The surface of the object is very smooth and shiny. This shininess might be the result of a former treatment method. At its base, there are two reference numbers. 211 (black ink) is the former one, M 95 (white ink) is the current reference number. 

The little green mark (3 mm long) might be a corrosion trace, maybe a verdigris oxidant which testifies the presence of copper oxides.

Figure 5: Zoom on black and white numbers, on the base of the bottle.


At the top of this bottle there is a small orifice but no stopper anymore, also the bottle is empty, but might have contained some palm oil. The top of this stopper may have been carved, representing a face, such as a calabash medicine container.


Figure 6: Calabash medicine container from Tanzania from http://www.randafricanart.com/Calabash_medicine_containers_Tanzania.html

Usually a calabash is made of the fruit from the calabash tree. Here, we are facing a more precious replica, named a skeuomorph.


Figure 7: Young fruit from a calabash tree, from https://www.omcseeds.com/lagenaria-siceraria-giant-calabash-6.html.


Knowledge of medicinal plants combined with spirituality have always been linked. The belief in witchcraft, divination and spiritual healing has come to coexist with Christianity and colonialism.

The overall condition of the object is good and remains stable, it doesn't need any specific treatment despite the presence of some museum or renaissance wax. Currently, the flask is displayed with other wooden and metallic artefacts. 

As the bottle might be affected by verdigris, it should be kept separately. That is why I would strongly recommend placing the bottle into a small plastic box padded with acid-free unbuffered paper, with a HR (relative humidity) below 35%.



This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2017-18), 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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