Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Object Assessment of B.0083: Quiver; Fire Making Equipment

Object Overview

Originated from the Kalahari Desert of South Africa, the quiver containing four fire sticks (Figure 1) is a perfect representation of the native San people’s hunter-gatherer’s means of subsistence inherited from the prehistoric period. This set of objects is on loan from J. Holt to the UCL Ethnographic Collections. 

Figure 1: quiver containing four fire sticks (B.0083)

The quiver is composited by three major parts: the wooden body, the fur cap and the grass fibre rings. The wooden body is a hollow cylinder formed by the bark of quiver tree. One end of the cylinder was carefully flattened for the attachment of the removable fur cup which might be made of the hide of the kneecap of an antelope. Three grass fibre rings were tightened to reinforce the wooden body. The holes on the quiver surface mainly appear in pairs (with similar size and shape) (Figure 2). These might show the attempts to find the best locations for attaching some strap-like object. 

Figure 2: quiver (length: 57 cm; average diameter: 5.5 cm) with holes appear in pairs (e.g. a and b, d and e, j and k)

For the four fire sticks, three are drills and the one with two perfect circular use marks is the base (Figure 3).

Figure 3: fire sticks (base, drill A-C, use marks a - b)

Context and Significance

The ownership of this set equipment reveals the ability of hunting and the men’s power in the San society. The well designed and skillfully crafted quiver not only indicates the high level of manufacture but also provides aesthetic attraction. The research and scientific significance include ethnographic research value and ecological context indication through the use of raw materials. This set of objects also has significant cultural and educational meaning for the young generation of the San people. The quiver is in fairly well-composited structure and maintains the good lustre of wood surface and fur. 


The quiver has a greasy black layer applied throughout the body, even under the fur cup. This coating might be tar or pitches from trees and was applied to protect the quiver body from the water. 

Figure 4: the greasy black layer on the quiver body

There are some long cracks and small latticed cracks on the wood surface (Figure 5), which might cause the peeling off of some black coating. 

Figure 5: small latticed cracks (left) and long cracks (right) on the quiver surface

The softened black coating under high temperature might cause the accumulation of dirt and the growth of mould on it (Figure 6).

Figure 6: accumulation of dirt and mould on the black coating

The removable fur cup has its leather totally hardened and tightly attached to the wooden body, which leads to the abrasion of the wood surface under it (Figure 7). 

Figure 7: the removable fur cup and the abrasion

The fire sticks are in relatively good condition, except for the pest damage on the base stick (Figure 8).

Figure 8: pest damage on the base stick

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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