Monday, 6 May 2019

H.0040: Gourd Bottle for Palm Wine Collection with Wooden Support

1.         Object Description

H.0040 is a round shaped gourd with an accompanying wooden component (see Figure 1). It is a bottle for palm wine collection in Yakö, Nigeria. The shape of this gourd is irregular as how it was grown naturally (see Figure 2 to 5). It has an opening on the top from the neck (Figure 6) and is hollow. In addition to the deep beige colour, it has extensive black stain on the gourd body and there is a piece of twine tied to the gourd through the three holes near the gourd neck (see Figure 2 to 5). As for the wooden support, it is made of two distinct types of timber fibre, both unpainted and unvarnished (see Figure 7 to 11).


Figure 1: Gourd bottle (left) with accompanying wooden support (right) from Yakö, West Africa. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)


Figure 2: Side A of the gourd bottle. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)


Figure 3: Side B of the gourd bottle. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)


Figure 4: Side C of the gourd bottle. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)


Figure 5: Side D of the gourd bottle. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)


Figure 6: Top view of the gourd bottle. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)


Figure 7: Side A of the wooden support. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)


Figure 8: Side B of the wooden support. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)


Figure 9: Side C of the wooden support. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)


Figure 10: Side D of the wooden support. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)


Figure 11: Top view of the wooden support. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)



2.         Manufacture Process

After harvesting, the gourd is dried and cut open to clear the dried fibrous content. Water is filled to soak the remaining fibrous content until it rots and can be poured out (Dodge 1943, 15; Norton 1990, 129). Small pebbles and sand are dropped into the bottle gourd and shaken around to loosen the remaining dried fibrous material and seeds followed by rinsing (Berns and Hudson 1986, 47; National Commission for Museums and Monuments 1993, 13; Norton 1990, 129) and soaking until bitterness is leached out (Norton 1990, 129). The gourd bottle is then dried again before fire (Dodge 1943, 16; Norton 1990, 129) until the outer shell has thoroughly hardened (Berns and Hudson 1986, 47). Holes are then pierced or drilled on the gourd bottle near the bottle neck for attaching the twine to the bottle. The v-shaped component of the wooden support is carved, and the tubular component is made of several long and slightly curved pieces of timber fibre material cut to form the tubular shape to fit the v-shaped component.


3.         Statement of Significance

Culturally, the gourd bottle itself exemplifies the palm wine collection and drinking culture of the Yakö and north-eastern Nigeria (see Figure 12 and 13). Despite lacking decorations or delicate carvings, the gourd bottle shows a strong cultural association to the daily lives of the people, where palm wine in gourd bottles was treated as valuable gifts for both personal and business relationships. Upon later when being part of an ethnographic collection, the gourd bottle is the evidence of the manufacture process of daily life tools made from natural and organic materials, and illustrates the culture of the Yakö along with other associated collections.

Figure 12: Yakö palm wine tapper with climbing equipment and gourd bottle. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: X.0781; photographed by Daryll Forde, n.d.)


Figure 13: Yakö palm wine tapper cutting palm flower open and attaching a gourd bottle to collect palm wine. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: X.0782; photographed by Daryll Forde, n.d.)

Historically, the gourd bottle is a living evidence of the efforts spent by Darryl Forde, the first head of Department of Anthropology of UCL, in the study and research on the Yakö culture. The gourd bottle was collected during one of his many field trips to north-eastern Nigeria, who is one of the pioneers in research on the Yakö as early as in 1930s.


4.         Assessment of Condition

The assessment of condition was carried out by visual assessment under visible light, UV light and handheld microscope. In general, the condition of the object (both parts) is stable and there is no apparent signs of active deterioration or defect that can compromise the stability of the material. Burnt marks, minor cracking, holes and adhesive materials are observed on the surface of the gourd bottle (see Figure 14 to 17). In addition, there are numerous holes observed on the surface of the wooden support (see Figure 18), which are possible woodworm flight holes, and there is stain on the timber component observed under UV light (see Figure 19).

Figure 14: Burn marks on the gourd surface (40x microscopic image in red box). (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)


Figure 15: Minor cracks near holes for twine cord. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)


Figure 16: Microscopic image (40x) of hole on the gourd bottle. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)

Figure 17: Adhesive tape used to attach the label to the gourd bottle. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)


Figure 18: Holes (circled) on the wooden support of the gourd bottle. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)

Figure 19: Wooden support of the gourd bottle under UV light. (Source: UCL Ethnographic Collections, accession no.: H.0040; photographed by Author, 2019)




Bibliography

Berns, M. C. and B. R. Hudson. 1986. The Essential Gourd: Art and History in Northeastern Nigeria. Los Angeles: Museum of Cultural History, University of California.

Dodge, E. S. 1943. Gourd Growers of the South Seas. Ethnographical Series No. 2. Boston: Gourd Society of America.

Forde, D. 1964. Yakö Studies. London, New York, Iban: Oxford University Press.

National Commission for Museums and Monuments. 1993. Uses of Gourds in Nigeria. Lagos: National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

Norton, R. E. 1990a. Technology of Plant Materials Used in Artifacts. In: The Conservation of Artifacts Made from Plant Materials. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 83-138.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Harappan metal figurine - S.0043

Photograph of the front of Harappan 'metal' figurine S.0043 measuring 10.4cm in height and 4.9cm in width. (Taken by author 2019)
Photograph of the top section of the figurine S.0043, showing the details of the face, and some areas of 'green corrosion' around the neck. (Taken by author 2019) 
Photograph showing the back of the figurine S.0043, with details of the area of repair on the upper leg, with clear adhesive around the join from a previous repair and also revealing the light beige colour of the base material that is likely plaster. (Taken by author 2019)

This object is a small 'metal figurine', of a naturalistic dancing woman that is currently in the UCL Ethnographic Collection (catalogue number S.0043). The context of this piece is largely unknown, though is stylistically consistent with a South East Asian origin. It is small in size, measuring approximately 10.4cm x 4.9cm x 3.3cm (HxWxD). She is wearing a necklace with pendants around her neck, and her arms have bangles up them, but is otherwise unclothed. There are several major breaks, and areas of chipping and surface flaking on both the back and the front of the figurine that expose the material beneath. The light colour and granular texture suggest that it is not made of metal as the collection catalogue indicates, but is likely plaster. This piece has been painted a dark brown to resemble a metal figurine, with areas of green ‘corrosion’ products that are in fact a green pigment that fluoresces under UV. Therefore, this piece is most likely a fake intended to look like an archaeological metal figurine from the Indus Valley.

This figurine is very similar to the 'Mohenjo-Daro Dancing girl' found in the 1920s and made of cast bronze. The original Dancing girl is one of the most famous pieces of artwork from the Indus civilisation, and thus is hugely important and well-known within South East Asian art, archaeology, and culture.

There are, however, slight differences between the original figurine and this plaster copy suggesting that this piece is a fake made to imitate the famed Dancing girl, but not a cast of the original. This plaster figurine as a copy of the Dancing girl from Mohenjo-Daro shares many of the same significances such as its aesthetic beauty and cultural importance. Especially relating to intangible aspects of the Indus culture, looking at gender, dance, and symbolism. This plaster copy provides access to these features from within the UK giving it substantial educational significance. Furthermore, this piece as a fake highlights the market that there is for fake figurines and archaeological objects and has significance within the modern world of art and archaeological forgeries.

Since the origin of this plaster figurine in the collection at UCL is largely unknown, there is no record of when it was acquired into the collection or from where. This makes tracing its history, and the date or location of production very difficult. Though it seems likely that this was intentionally produced as a fake made to imitate the Dancing girl and look like archaeological metal.

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