The copper bell, which is also known as J.0098, is located in the Ethnography Collections at the Anthropology Department, UCL (Fig.1). The small copper bell of a size of only 20x20 millimetres originates from the Aro tribe in Arochukwu, Nigeria, where the Long Juju oracles used it as a ceremonial and religious ornament.
Fig.1 - The copper bell: J.0098
It has a small loop where it can be attached to something else and a small gap on the opposite side where the sound made from the bell will be amplified. Inside its hollow interior is a clapper made from iron (Fig.2) that is heavy enough to make the bell roll if enough force is put into it. It was a man named D.A.F. Shute who collected and donated the bell to the collection, however, it is still unknown when this was.
Fig.2 - Clapper made from iron
The entire bell and its clapper seem to have been in the presence of a high humidity as it’s covered by corrosion and tarnish, giving it a green and brownish colour. However, this has led to the theory of it being made from a copper alloy, like brass or bronze, which are both common in Nigerian metal crafting. The bell is made from a single mount, as no additional metals nor repairs have been added to it, which leads to the theory of its manufacturing method being the lost wax casting method. The only visible treatment the bell has received since being donated to the collection is the labelling of its inventory number (Fig.3-4). Some areas of the bell have been scratched and left a trace of green and red corrosion on both metals.
Fig.3 - Inventory number
Fig.4 - Fluorescent glow of the acrylic coating
Remnants of particles that can be found in its interior can be dirt and dust from its archaeological excavation or maybe even from its manufacturing process. The overall condition of the bell is stable and the corrosion seems to have calmed down. Keeping it in a RH of 40% or less is recommended to keep it from corroding even further. However, to fully learn about the biography, condition and true value of the bell, further research and investigations are needed. When treating an object one needs to remember that it has a past life and a cultural value. If the treatment will repair the object but damage its original value, then have the treatment been a success or not? As a conservator, knowing an object's biography is equally important as knowing how to treat it, as they both are intertwined and depend on each other.
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.