The Pleasures of Astronomy

I am going to break my habit with this installment and focus on an object that has nothing to do with the dead.

In September 1682 the English Astronomer Edmund Halley observed the comet that was named after him. Well, ok. Edmund Halley is dead, but my object is only loosely linked with this anniversary. At first I thought I might talk about records of comet sightings, for example the ancient Babylonian astronomical tablets that record comet observations.

That was until I came across the Pleasures of Astronomy, or Science in Sport. As a lover of boardgames, I knew this was my object for this week.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND

A board game is any game in which counters or pieces are moved, according to a set of rules, around a pre-marked area. They have been a part of cultures and societies all around the world and from a very early age.

One of the earliest known games is Senet, an Ancient Egyptian game known from Pre- and early Dynastic burials and found at least up until the 20th Dynasty. Some boards would be made from wood, or faience, and could be plain or richly decorated. But if you had something to use for counters you could easily draw a grid in the sand, or on the rocks and play there.

One of four found in the tomb of Tutankhamun
One of four found in the tomb of Tutankhamun

Another example of an early game is the Chinese game Go, the earliest reference coming from the 4th Century BC. Despite having simple rules the game requires significant strategy to win. For many centuries it was considered one of the four essential arts, along with music, painting and calligraphy, of a Chinese scholar. Go is still played up to this day and its popularity can be evidenced by the International Go Federation, which has 74 member countries as of 2012, and organises tournaments around the world.

Korean couple playing Go in the early 1900s
Korean couple playing Go in the early 1900s

To avoid boring you with a complete history of boardgames I am going to skip ahead to the 1800s, which is when The Pleasures of Astronomy was created. Many games of this time focused on Christian morals, such as The Mansion of Happiness, but as the century progressed the focus of games changed. As people became more interested in wealth generation and became more materialistic, so too did the games. The Checkered Game of Life was the earliest example of this type of game, the predecessor to the modern version of The Game of Life, and was followed by the most commercially successful game in the US, Monopoly.

THE OBJECT

E.1762-1954

The Pleasures of Astronomy game board
The Pleasures of Astronomy game board

A hand coloured engraving, mounted on linen for easy folding, the Pleasures of Astronomy is a race game. Created by John Wallis in 1804, this object is a re-issue published by his son Edward, estimated to be from 1815.

The game features 35 squares with portraits of astronomers and representations of astronomical phenomena (There is definitely a comet on there, perhaps Edmund Halley is also present?). Through a series of spins of a wheel, the goal of the game was to be the first person to reach square 35 making it a game of chance rather than a game requiring knowledge or strategy.

The V&A database notes:

At the time, nine planets and their movements around the sun were known. Intermingled with facts are compartments dealing with fiction (the Man in the Moon) , behaviour (the Studious Boy and the Blockhead), signs of the Zodiac, comets and rainbows, and astronomers.”

Richly decorated, games like this one would have been expensive to produce and were certainly the pursuits of the wealthy. Fortunately, advances in paper making and printing, as well as more recently digital technology, have made board games in the modern age widely available. And their popularity is on the rise.

So, anyone fancy a game?

Thanks for reading 🙂

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Monday Musings #3

Apologies for the lack of musings last Monday. I was in Beaumaris all day with family and unlike my main posts, I don’t have these prepared in advance.

There has been a further development with the Sekhemka statue. Its export ban was extended to the end of August and people continue to try and raise funds to allow it to remain in the UK. Egypt is even campaigning to raise the money itself so the statue could be returned to its home country.  I still find it astonishing that the decision to sell this piece was made and pushed through, despite all the advice and clear public opinion against such an action. Here’s hoping for a positive outcome yet!

Another topic covered previously was the ongoing strike action at the National Gallery and National Museum Wales sites. In addition, National Museum Scotland is also striking against threats to weekend pay. The disputes continue, and PCS union is determined to fight for worker rights and to ensure that some of the lowest paid workers in the industry are not forced to take even more cuts to pay.

And finally, since I seem to have a bit of a bones theme running through this blog so far, UK and Zimbabwe are in discussion over potential repatriation of some human remains held at the Natural History Museum in London. There is a great deal of discussion over the ethics of collection and display of human remains, and requests for return of material like this are not uncommon.

Under the provision of the 2004 Human Tissue Act, museums with human remains in their collections will normally have a policy to consider formal requests for repatriation. It will be a lengthy process, but hopefully it will be possible to establish whether these remains are indeed related to the 1890s events as the Zimbabwean government suspects.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Solomon Island Spearhead

My object for this week is a spearhead made from human remains.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND

The Solomon Islands lie to the East of Papua New Guinea and Northwest of Vanuatu. In modern times it is a Commonwealth state, recognising Queen Elizabeth II as the Head of State, but otherwise being governed as an independent state by ministers on the Solomon Islands.

Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands

 

It has been inhabited for thousands of years, incorporating Papuan speaking and Lapita cultures. The first Europeans to visit came in 1568, Álvaro de Mendaña y Neira was a Spanish navigator and it was he who named the island Islas Salomón. The inhabitants were widely known to be headhunters and cannibals (Knauft, 1999, 103) and early attempts by missionaries to bring Christianity to the islands were met with violence.

In 1893 the United Kingdom declared a protectorate over the Solomon Islands and eventually missionaries were able to settle there, converting a large portion of the population. By the 20th Century British and Australian firms had started large coconut plantations on the islands.

During the Second World War there was intense fighting around the Solomon Islands, including the famous battle of Guadalcanal.  The islands gained independence in 1978, though they still struggle with some ethnic tension and political instability.

ACQUISITION

Oc1915,-.52 joined the collection at the British Museum in 1915, purchased with 42 other objects from Charles M Woodford through the Christy Fund at a price of £90. Its creation and collection are estimated sometime between 1850 and 1911.

THE OBJECT

Oc1915,-.52

Spear made from human femur
Spear made from human femur

In the register the following is said about the object:

“… [they] were discovered on the site of a very old burying place. The wooden shafts upon which they were mounted appeared to have been about seven feet long and to have been made of some dark heavy wood, but they were much decayed. The spear heads are made from human femur ….”

It is unclear how old the object really is since this quote suggests something ‘very old’. However, the museum database does estimate a date of 1850-1911, which may be based upon some evidence that is unavailable from the online database.

It is probable this object was ceremonial rather than functional, perhaps being made purely for use in a burial context. It is finely carved and the small teeth (all except one being broken) along one edge are too delicate to have been intended for use as an actual weapon.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Sources used in this article:

Knauft, B. M (1999) From Primitive to Postcolonial in Melanesia and Anthropology, Michigan: University of Michigan Press

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%81lvaro_de_Menda%C3%B1a_de_Neira accessed 21/8/15

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Papuan_languages accessed 21/8/15

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapita_culture accessed 21/8/15

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_Islands accessed 21/8/15

Expert in this area: Polly Bence, Curator of Oceania at the British Museum

Sakhalin Island Charm

Today’s will be a short post. Well. Compared to last week anyway. Partly this is due to me being busy, but also because there is little information about this figure/charm from Sakhalin Island.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND

Sakhalin is an island in the North Pacific Ocean that sits North of Japan and East of Russia. It has three indigenous peoples known as Ainu, Oroks and Nivkhs.

Sakhalin Island
Sakhalin Island

Inhabited since the Stone Age, the islanders were mainly hunters and fishermen. The Orok were known to herd reindeer as well as hunt and their skills in this became well known on the mainlands of Russia and China, and when Europeans started to explore the area. The Nivkh people particularly encountered influences from outside peoples including both the Mongol and Chinese.

However, all the people of the island have suffered from long term conflicts between the Russians and Japanese, with the island changing hands many times. Ultimately, this led to the deportation of the Ainu to Japan in 1949.  Few people identify as Ainu and the language is now considered endangered, and the majority of Orok and Nivkh now speak Russian, again with few still speaking their native language.

COLLECTION AND ACQUISITION

A man named Fridolf Hook collected the object in the 1890s and it was acquired by the museum at this time along with some Japanese items, most likely as part of the Franks collection.

THE OBJECTS

AS1896,-.590 a-c Figure/charm

Sakhalin charm
Sakhalin charm

DISCUSSION

According to the database the object is Nivkh in origin. It doesn’t have any further information about a possible use or purpose for the item. Labelled as a figure or charm, it consists of three separate wooden carvings all tied together with a piece of cord. Although one of the carvings is unclear, the other two can be identified as a fish and a human figure. There are a few comparable items in the collection, all of which seem to have been collected at the same time, acquired originally by Hook.

The religion of the area is largely based on animist beliefs such as shamanism. A shaman was responsible for the health and well-being of the population, diagnosing sickness, creating remedies and often making talismans (Friedrich and Diamond, 1994, 238) to try to prevent sickness.

It is likely this object is a charm of this type, intended to ward off evil spirits. Perhaps the fish also acts as a good luck charm, ensuring a successful hunt. When I first saw this object it was the human figure that drew my attention.

What does the expression mean? Hunger? Sickness? And despite its small size and simplicity, it is well crafted. On first glance it appears to have only one eye, but look closer. You can see a very gentle groove where the other eye would be. So the expression is deliberate, with one eye open and one closed.

Human figure
Human figure

The idea of using a talisman or charm to ward off evil is common in many cultures, including across Africa, the Middle East and North America. Charm bracelets have even become popular with modern audiences through the Pandora brand of jewellery.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Sources used in this article:

Friedrich and Diamond (1994) Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia- China. Volume 6. G.K.Hall and Company. Boston, Massachusetts

Ohnuki-Tierney, E. (2014) Illness and Healing among the Sakhalin Ainu. Cambridge: University Press

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ainu_people accessed 14/08/15

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nivkh_people accessed 14/08/15

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orok_people accessed 14/08/15

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sakhalin accessed 14/08/15

As yet unable to find an expert for this subject area, but i’ll keep looking!

Monday Musings #2

Last week the most significant museum/heritage story for me was the decision by the National Gallery to appoint security firm Securitas to manage their visitor services department. It is interesting that this change has gone ahead with the new Director due to start at the gallery this week. Perhaps this is an indication that further privatisation is to come under the new director’s leadership.

The gallery has commented that the change will provide a better service for the visitors and is intended to be part of a move towards modernisation. They have also stated that no redundancies will be made. Given the support for the non-privatisation of gallery services it is likely this dispute will continue.

The Smithsonian has partnered with Kickstarter for a series of crowd funded campaigns. The first one, Reboot the Suit, aims to raise money for conservation work on Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit, ultimately so that it can be put back on permanent display. This project has already reached it’s funding target and has increased the original goal so that work can be done on other spacesuits.

It is interesting that another recent crowd funded project by the National Museum of the Royal Navy did not reach its target, despite having a similar format and rewards on offer to supporters. The HMS M33 is the sole surviving vessel of its type and one of only three surviving First World War ships. HMS M33 had several other functions before coming to the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, and will be open to the public in 2015.

Given that both Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit and HMS M33 are unique and had a huge impact on history, it is interesting to see the effect that a high media profile has on support for projects like this.

And to finish, this week is the final week for  the summer exhibition at The Royal Academy of Arts.

Thanks for reading!

Ancient Egyptian Coffin Fragments

My objects for this week are three coffin fragments in the Egypt Centre collection and I must confess, I somewhat cheated this week as I wrote my dissertation on these objects. This probably means you’re in for a longer read than normal, but I’ll try to keep it concise!

Iyemhetep
Example of TIP yellow style coffin. Iyemhetep at the Louvre

 

A LITTLE BACKGROUND

Coffin production in ancient Egypt has a long and varied history. As early as 3000 BC there is evidence for primitive wood and pottery coffins, though this is uncommon. It was not until the Early Dynastic period that coffins became a common element of burials. The fundamental function of the coffin is to protect the corpse, but as Egyptian society developed so too did their conceptions of death and the afterlife, and these ideas gave greater purpose to coffins. Consequently, Egyptian coffins vary in form and can be plain or rich with pictorial and textual symbolism that represents Egyptian attitudes to the afterlife at the time.

These objects come from the Third Intermediate Period (TIP), which is actually quite late in Egyptian history. It’s long after the pyramids (2560 BC) and Tutankhamen (1332 BC), and begins with the death of Rameses XI and the end of the New Kingdom in 1069 BC. By this time there were established traditions for coffin construction; they were anthropoid in form and most were nested, that is with several coffins placed one inside the other. Whilst New Kingdom coffins began with a feathered design known as rishi, this developed into a style decorated with horizontal and vertical bands of text. TIP coffins evolved from this and the traditional decorations found in tombs; they are very distinctive with bright polychrome decoration on a yellow ground and are known as the ‘yellow type’ to Egyptologists.

COLLECTION AND ACQUISITION

The majority of objects at the Egypt Centre came from the collection of Sir Henry Wellcome, a British-American chemist, entrepreneur and amateur archaeologist. He carried out excavations in Egypt and the Sudan, and during his lifetime amassed large quantities of material from all over the world. When he died in 1936 his collection fell into the care of the trustees, who were left with the problem of how to care for it. They decided to disperse much of it amongst museums in the UK, and the British Museum particularly benefited from this, as did the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology. Subsequently some of the material stored at the Petrie was donated to Swansea University by the Wellcome Trust.

The objects in question both have an ‘EC’ number, which stands for Egypt Centre. This designation was given during the 1997 cataloguing to all objects whose previous acquisition information was unknown and is explained in the document linked.

THE OBJECTS

EC406, Third Intermediate Period coffin fragment

EC406
EC406

EC413, Two Third Intermediate Period coffin fragments

EC413A and B
EC413A (upper) and B (lower)

DISCUSSION

The decoration on EC406 consists of a line of inscription, bordered by the varicoloured geometric pattern, each side of which is part of a scene. The wood is painted, and plastered, with the whole area being varnished. There is no surviving decoration on the back, but there are clumps of a white substance. This is likely to be the remnants of decoration, where most of the paint and plaster has been lost, as it was normal for coffins of this type to have interior decoration.

Its edges are all straight, and the whole piece has only a slight curve to it. The bottom edge has a dark brown mark on it, and a dowel hole containing the broken end of a dowel. The marks are probably resin, or adhesive. The dowel indicates that this is the bottom of the piece, or near to the bottom as it looks like it was sawn from the original object, and the dowel sawn through also. The piece was therefore originally connected to another, which may have been the coffin base, as the inscription and scene are both complete.

The scene to the left of the inscription survives better than that on the right. It consists of a falcon standing on a shrine. In front of it there is a cobra wearing the white crown, and behind is an outstretched wing. This wing belongs to a deity, who stands behind the falcon. It is likely this scene is similar to those of Bolton Museum No. 69. 30.

Bolton Coffin
Bolton Coffin

 

The scene to the right of the inscription has been cut off after the first figure. This figure is mummiform, painted blue, and has a dark wig of which only the very bottom is visible. Using the more distinctive image of the falcon and winged protective deity, comparison with complete pieces allows me to assign this fragment a location at the head end before the shoulder piece.

coffinec406
Probable original location of EC406

 

The column of text between the geometric borders contains only the very end of an inscription, and as so little survives it is not possible to suggest whether this was part of a spell from the Book of the Dead or an offering text. The text present is as follows:

pr [ Imn] an-mr-tAw maA xrw

the temple of [Amun], Anmeretau, true of voice.

The quality of writing is good on this piece, with all the signs having been carefully drawn and painted. The section contains the end of a title, and the epithet maA xrw, so between these is the name of the deceased, and this matches with a name shown on fragment EC413B.

Studies on names show no match, although similar name formations do exist. This suggests it is not common, and so both fragments are likely part of one set. The colour of the varnished, yellow ground on EC406 and EC413 is very similar, which supports the argument, as it is clear that varying degrees of ‘yellowness’ exist on the ‘yellow type’ coffins. Finally, the colours of the hieroglyphs are almost identical. Below shows the two instances of the name for comparison.

Both instances of the owner's name. EC413B left and EC406 right.
Both instances of the owner’s name. EC413B left and EC406 right.

 

EC413 actually comprises two separate pieces of a ‘yellow type’ coffin, which have the same registration number. For the purpose of easier discussion I have labelled them as EC413A (upper on the photo) and EC413B (lower on the photo). The two pieces are of similar sizes, and have been claimed to fit together. (I do not believe this to be the case, but that is a whole article in itself.) EC413B is slightly bigger, with a length of approximately 2cm more than EC413A.

Both pieces are plastered, painted and varnished, and they have straight edges. It appears they have been cut this way on purpose. There are two dowels in the bottom of EC413B, which shows this piece was originally connected with another. There is also an old label on the right hand edge of piece B, which reads ‘218’, indicating an old inventory or lot number.

There are several dark brown marks on the edges of both pieces, which could be some sort of adhesive, or resin. As the right hand edge of EC413A, which would not have been exposed before it was cut, is covered with a brown substance (less dark than the small marks) I would suggest it was not applied in ancient times. It is possibly evidence of an early conservation effort in which the two pieces were glued together.

EC413
EC413 showing 218 label and brown adhesive.

The backs of both pieces do not have any decoration, though there are traces of gesso, as well as red-brown paint. On piece B something has been written on with blue crayon, possibly another old number. On the corners of both pieces there is evidence of water damage, so they have at some point been in contact with moisture.

The decorative elements of EC413 suggest it to be part of a coffin box rather than a lid and possible original locations are before the shoulder, as with EC406 and near the foot end of the long side panel.

Possible original locations for EC413
Possible original locations for EC413

 

The block of inscription is bordered by the same red, green and blue geometric pattern found on many complete coffins and other fragments of this period. Either side of the inscription there were scenes. Both have been cut off midway.

The text that has survived on the exterior is fairly well preserved. On EC413B the ends of the three columns are present, the following showing the name of the owner in the same format as on fragment EC406.

Column 1 on EC413B (Right):

[…] Pr Imn an-mr-tAw maA xrw

[…] temple of Amun, Anmeretau, true of voice.

So what might we be able to know about Anmeretau from looking at these fragments?

The style of dress visible on EC413, and the title ending ‘pr Imn’ both indicate that Anmeretau was male. He worked in the temple of Amun, which was likely to be Karnak as this type of coffin is predominantly Theban in origin. He was also able to afford at least one decorated coffin, which even if it contained formulaic inscriptions, it did include more than one instance of his name.

The text is well formed, and though fragmentary the scenes appear to be of a relatively high quality as well (see the detail on the legs of the falcon on EC406). When complete, the coffin probably resembled BM EA24789.

BM EA24789
BM EA24789

 

I could continue…but I won’t. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

Sources used in this article:

D’Auria, S, P. Lacovara and C. H. Roehrig. 1992 (reprint). Mummies and Magic: The Funerary Arts of Ancient Egypt. Boston: Boston Museum of Fine Art

Faulkner, R. O. (ed) 1985. The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. London: Trustees of the British Museum.

Goff, B. L. 1979. Symbols of Ancient Egypt in the Late Period. The 21st Dynasty. The Hague, Paris, New York: Mouton.

Ikram, S. and A. Dodson. 1998. The Mummy in Ancient Egypt: Equipping the dead for Eternity. London: Thames and Hudson.

Niwiński, A. 1988. Twenty-first Dynasty coffins from Thebes: Chronological and Typological studies. Theban V. Mainz am Rhein: Phillip von Zabern.

Ranke, H. 1935. Die Ägyptischen Personennamen. Band I. Glükstadt: Verlag von J. J. Augustin.

Strudwick, N. C. and J. H. Taylor. Eds 2003. The Theban Necropolis: Past Present and Future. London: British Museum Press.

Taylor, J. H. 2001. Death and the Afterlife in Ancient Egypt. London: Trustees of the British Museum.

Experts in this area: Professor Andrzej Niwiński, University of Warsaw, and Dr JH Taylor, British Museum.

 

Spring cleaning with Dürer: conserving the Triumphal Arch

Reblogging this from the British Museum. A truly unique piece of work and this is a great showcase for the work of the Western Art on Paper Conservation team. Thanks for showing us how this was done!

British Museum blog

Lauren Buttle, candidate for a Masters of Art Conservation, Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada

As a student placement in the Western Art on Paper Conservation Studio at the British Museum this summer, I was expecting a few objects to be placed on my workbench that would present some new and interesting challenges. I was not, however, expecting a 3.5 m x 3 m, 16th-century print collage.

As readers of Joanna Kosek’s previous article on this project will know, the task of unframing Albrect Dürer’s Triumphal Arch and transporting the work to the conservation studio was a major undertaking on its own. Now that the work is in the studio, the even trickier question arises: how do you clean the centre of such a large print? Unfortunately, as high-tech as the brand new studios here at the British Museum are, the option of having conservators suspended from the ceiling like ninjas, was…

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Monday Musings

In between my regular object posts, which are likely to come on Fridays, I thought I would highlight some of the museum goings on from the past week.

Roger Bland to step down as Keeper of Britain, Europe and Prehistory department and head of the Portable Antiquities Service. Roger has been heavily involved from PAS from the start and his work setting it up and running it has made it what it is today. Treasure finds are up and more and more people are reporting what they find. It is terrible news that this service is being moved out of the department where relevant expertise lies and into that of learning, volunteers and audiences. It is not immediately obvious what the logic behind this move is, unless the Museum is intending to take PAS in a new direction.

SS Great Britain Trust successful in bid to HLF for funds for the new Brunel Museum. Excellent news that funding is almost all accounted for to set up this exciting new museum.

Export ban on the Sekhemha statue expired on 28th July. As a consequence of the sale, Northampton Museum was stripped of its accredited status by Arts Council England and is barred from the Museum Association for five years. Effects of this are already being felt in their inability to access funding from some sources, such as HLF.

The fate of the statue gives rise to further concerns about irresponsible rationalisation. Sekhemka was a treasure, finely crafted and beautiful and should never have been sold. Now that it has left the safety of a public museum and entered a private collection there is no knowing if it will be properly cared for. Or if it will ever be seen again by the public.

Strikes held over weekend and bank holiday pay in Wales. Support those in the front line services, without them we wouldn’t be able to enjoy museums the way we do now. People are giving up their weekends and bank holidays to allow museums to open for the rest of us and the extra pay supplements the low wages front of house staff are often receiving.

Animal Skulls from the Andaman Islands

First off, since this is my first real post, welcome to outofthestore! I hope that you will enjoy exploring the stores with me.

The first objects I wanted to show are actually sort of topical, which is strange as I selected them long before the public response over the death of Cecil the lionRegardless, perhaps people like Walter Palmer have something to learn about skill and sport from the people that created these trophy skulls in the Andaman Islands.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND

The Andaman Islands sit in the Bay of Bengal, with India to the West and Myanmar to the North East.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Andaman and Nicobar Islands

They have been occupied for thousands of years but the Andamanese people seem to have lived largely in isolation up until the 18th Century. Brief mentions of Andaman occur in the 10th Century Persian book Ajaib al-Hind (Wonders of India) and again in the Travels of Marco Polo. Both mention that the natives are savage and cannibalistic, though as Polo also claims they have heads like dogs it is probable he was recounting a local story he’d been told and never actually visited.

COLLECTION AND ACQUISITION

In 1789 the British established a naval base and penal colony on Great Andaman, which is now known as Port Blair. Further settlements, including more prisons, were built on the islands and contact between the Andamanese and outsiders increased. It is during the British occupation of the island that the skulls, and many other Andamanese items, were collected by a man named Maurice Vidal Portman. Portman spent more than 20 years on the Andaman islands documenting, photographing and in some cases trying to pacify the tribes there. In 1886 he donated his collection to the British Museum and it now resides in the department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas.

THE OBJECTS

The British Museum  collection online  offers little information about these objects as they have been little researched or displayed and the database records the information from the original registers.

AS1886,1129.117b Turtle skull, trophy 

Turtle skull with painted red stripes and bark cord
Turtle skull with painted red stripes and bark cord

AS1886, 1129.116 Pig skull, trophy

Pig skull with bound basket work
Pig skull with bound basket work

DISCUSSION

Edward Horace Man, a 19th Century amateur anthropologist who spent time photographing the Andamanese people, said of the skulls “by way of adornment, trophies of the chase such as the skulls of pigs, turtles and dugongs etc are suspended from the front of the roof.” (Man, EH and Ellis, AJ. 1932, p 38.) More recently it was noted that “in the Andaman Islands animal parts are displayed as trophies, and householders view middens with pride as a sign of hunting success, suggesting a broader definition of ‘trophy.'” (Cooper, Z. 2001)

Many of the pig skulls from Portman’s collection were likely made by the Jarawa people as they are encased in basket work, which AR Brown mentions as a specific practice of this tribe (Brown, AR. 1922, 467-468). There are fewer of the turtle skulls in the collection, none of which have any basket work on them. I am unclear as to whether this was only applied to the pig skulls or if it means these objects were not of Jarawa origin. Two of them are painted entirely in one colour, the third being striped. This could again show something about the maker; does it indicate a particular tribe or was the decoration a personal thing?

These objects represent a long standing tradition for the people of the Andaman Islands. Interestingly, AR Brown notes in his 1922 study, “The natives of all parts of the islands were formerly in the habit of preserving as trophies the skulls of pigs and turtles that were killed in the chase. The natives of the Great Andaman Division do not now trouble to preserve all the skulls of pigs they kill and they give us as their reason for this that now that they have dogs the hunting of pigs is not a sport that requires any great skill.” (Brown, AR. 1922, 467)

Man also commented on the change in practice by the Andamanese, “Whereas in the olden days they were able to regard the slowly increasing heap with pride as witnessing to the success and skill in hunting and fishing for the community near whose encampment it was situated, nowadays all case for boasting regarding their achievements is considered at an end in consequence of the material assistance they receive from the dogs we have given them, and the superiority of the weapons they have been able to manufacture from iron obtained from the Homes.” (Man, EH. 1885, 269)

Colonial expansion and interference had a huge impact on the Andaman Islands, changing the landscape and reducing the native population to around only 450 individuals on the islands today, with some of the tribes already extinct. Objects like these trophy skulls therefore represent a culture that seems to be struggling to survive.

In contrast to Man and Brown’s observations, Cooper claims that the tradition of making trophy skulls has survived into modern times, despite continued contact with the outside world (Cooper, Z. 2001, 178). If in the past the natives had to deal with colonial expansion, their newest challenge comes from ever increasing numbers of tourists. The observation of the pig and turtle skulls by Cooper then perhaps indicates a return to traditional values by the Andamanese in attempt to regain or strengthen the connection with their historic cultural identity.

Thanks for reading!

Sources used in this article:

Brown, AR. 1922, The Andaman Islanders. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Man, EH. 1885 ‘On the Andaman Islands, and their Inhabitants,’ in Journal of the Anthropological Institute 14: 253-272.

Man, EH. And Ellis, AJ 1932, The Aboriginal Inhabitants of the Andaman Islands. New Delhi: Mittal Publications

Cooper, Z. 2001, ‘The enigma of gender in the archaeological record of the Andaman Islands’ in, In Pursuit of Gender: Worldwide Archaeological Approaches, S.M Nelson and M Rosen-Ayalon eds, p173-185. Walnut Creek CA: Altamira Press)

Wintle, Claire. 2013, Colonial Collecting and Display: Encounters with Material Culture from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Museums and Collections . Berghahn, Oxford, UK

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Ramhormuzi accessed 30/7/2015

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andamanese_people accessed 30/7/2015

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andaman_Islands accessed 30/7/2015

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Travels_of_Marco_Polo/Book_3/Chapter_13 accessed 30/7/2015

Two other museums with objects from the Andaman Islands:

The Horniman Museum

Brighton Museum

Expert in this area: Claire Wintle, University of Brighton

Hello world!

Outofthestore is a new blog dedicated to exploring historical subjects and how we can relate to them through the objects that are housed in our museums and galleries. More specifically…the objects that are stored there rather than the tiny percentage that are on display.

There are literally millions of things – collected by enthusiastic travellers, keen anthropologists, explorers, adventurers and scholars – safely cached in museum stores just waiting to be researched. And in many cases, they are fascinating things, things that today you could not find or buy if you wanted to.

The aim of this blog is to unearth some of these objects, share their histories and ask questions; who made these things? how and why? what do these objects tell us about their creators and ourselves? The articles are intended as short discussions about the objects and (hopefully) will encourage you to go and find out more.

I look forward to exploring the stores with you!

Showcasing museum collections currently in storage