Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Researching Melanesian Kapkaps

Kapkap display awaiting new labels
My volunteer work at the Museum currently involves working on new labels to appear in a series of displays featuring Melanesian body ornaments. When I look at the objects in the display cases, what stand out - with their striking contrast of dark and white in mysterious geometric patterns - are the 'kapkaps'. The name sounds rather cute, doesn't it?

A traditionally made kapkap, which is worn around the neck or on the forehead, is a circular white clamshell disc overlaid with carved dark-brown turtle-shell fretwork. I was attracted and intrigued by these beautiful objects.

Finding out how they were produced was exciting and enjoyable. I found an informative article entitled "Of Skin, blood, and bone: The kapkap of New Ireland" by Graeme Were in 'Melanesia: Art and encounter' (British Museum, 2013).

The kapkaps on display in the Museum are from Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. I learnt from this article that the significance of kapkaps, and the process of making them, varies - not only over time - but within the different areas of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Were analyses in detail the production and use of kapkaps by the Nalik speaking people in northern New Ireland, Papua New Guinea.

Two of the kapkaps on display from New Ireland, Papua New Guinea
From left to right: PRM 1938.36.1702 and PRM 1938.36.1703 © Pitt Rivers Museum

I describe some of this process below, which is specific to this particular area.

Giant clam shells on display in the Lower Gallery of the
Museum © Pitt Rivers Museum
Making a kapkap is a long and complicated process.

First, the clamshell plate, which has been heated, dried and cooled down to be hardened, is ground down. This is done in a secluded place by a group of men, who take this in turn, using a stone tool. Apparently just this process may take several weeks.

After the cooperative effort of the initial stage, the second stage - carving the turtle-shell - is a solitary business. A chosen local craftsman goes on a fast, and collects certain leaves from the forest, bundles them, and buries them in the sand on the beach as an offering. Then, in his dream, he receives an image of the kapkap to be created. In a special shelter - in a secluded location - the craftsman works along carving the turtle-shell, which is traditionally done with a shark's tooth.

The final stage is to put the smoothed clamshell disc and the turtle-shell fretwork together. A hole is drilled in the centre of each of them, through which a string is threaded and knotted to secure the two plates on top of each other.

It is said that the kapkap has a magical power to create or to ward off sorcery. For this reason, apart from at mortuary feasts, it is rarely seen publicly and is mostly hidden in some dark corner of the clan chief's house. The more power he gets in the community, the more complicated becomes the pattern of his kapkap. When he dies, his kapkap also dies. The clamshell disc and the turtle-shell fretwork are separated and are either burned, or buried, with him. Sometimes the clamshell disc is kept for recycling.

You can see these fascinating objects for yourself on the Lower Gallery on the first floor of the Museum. If you are not able to visit in person, you can look at some of the kapkaps in the Museum collection using the online object catalogue. Simply enter 'Melanesia' under continent, select 'ornament' under classification, then enter 'shell' and 'turtle' for materials. Finally perform your search.

In this podcast recorded in the Museum's galleries, listen to Graeme Were in conversation with Ben Burt (British Museum), talking about these fascinating shell ornaments:



Fusa McLynn
Collections Volunteer

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

New Acquisitions: Nok Terracottas

Replica terracottas and moulds on my desk for cataloguing, below replica terracottas.
I recently catalogued a new acquisition from the daughter of Bernard Fagg, former curator and Director of the Pitt Rivers Museum. The donation was of a number of Nok terracottas and moulds among other things detailed below. Fagg was an archaeologist and anthropologist whom, prior to becoming curator at the Pitt Rivers, worked for the British Colonial administration in Jos, Nigeria during the Second World War. During this time he excavated the Pop Rock Shelter on the Jos Plateau. It was during this excavation that Fagg found evidence of Nok culture including distinctive Nok terracotta figurines. Fagg became somewhat of an expert on Nok culture and wrote 'Nok Terracottas' published by Ethnographica for the National Museum, Lagos in 1977. A publication which was very helpful when cataloguing this collection. 
2012.103.7; cast of Nok terracotta figure, depicting a female figure mounted on a cylindrical splayed and hollow base. 


2012.103.3; cast of Nok terracotta, fragment of a figure.




2012.103.8; fragment of a figure, arm with ornaments shown on the upper arm and at the wrist. The hand is holding a hafted axe.
2012.103.9; cast of terracotta head from Nok.

2012.103.1; cast of terracotta head from Nok.
Fagg commissioned the moulds in the mid-to-late 1960s so that it would be possible for the originals to remain in Nigeria and for museums in the West to be able to show replicas of the newly discovered art. The moulds are excellent material evidence of a moment in the history of the study and presentation of African art and of the history of museological practice. The moulds are made from plaster with a rubbery/ latex inner. The replicas bare a close resemblance to the original terracottas, some of which feature in Fagg's aforementioned publication. 







2012.103.20; cast for creating replica Nok terracotta 
As well as the replica terracottas and moulds in this recent donation were also two African walking sticks belonging to Fagg, a gourd bowl with local repair, two fibreglass reproduction casts of Benin brass plaques in the PRM collections and a replica of the Cook voyage collection hei tiki, perhaps with the intention of selling it as merchandise in the Museum shop. 


2012.103.14; ornately carved gourd bowl.
2012.103.14; detail of local repair of gourd bowl.
2012.103.11; Repica Benin plaque, replica of original from PRM collections: 1900.39.2.
2012.103.15 .1 & .2; replica Forster collection hei tiki.
Faye Belsey
Assistant Curator

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The Cooke Daniels Expedition

Heather Donoghue of the University of East Anglia Sainsbury Research Centre recently visited to the Pitt Rivers Museum. Her aim was to further her research on all the objects in UK and Australian museums collected on the Cooke Daniels exhibition more than a century ago.

The Cooke Daniels Expedition visited British New Guinea in 1903 and 1904. Major William Cooke Daniels (d.1918), Professor Charles Gabriel Seligman (1873 - 1940), Dr Walter Mersh Strong (1873-1946) and Mr A. H. Dunning undertook the expedition. 

The Pitt Rivers Museum has 174 objects collected during the exhibition. To search these objects on the Museum's object collections online database enter 'Cooke Daniels' in the 'PRM Source' field in the search criteria. 



1905.63.7'Carved board painted, representing 
conventionalized human form in squatting posture' 
collected from Goaribari Island during the expedition. 
On display in case 113.A in the Museum Court. 
Cooke Daniels was a wealthy American department store owner, world traveller and organiser of the expedition. Seligman was a British anthropologist who had trained as a medical doctor specialising in pathology. Mersh Strong, also a doctor, acted as laboratory assistant to Seligman. Dunning was responsible for photography and cinematic recording on the trip. 

Cooke Daniels financed the expedition after a chance meeting with Seligman on a fishing trip in Hampshire. The group also received a grant from the Royal Society towards the expedition expenses. Seligman had some relevant experience having travelled to New Guinea on a previous trip as a member of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits (the sea passage north of Australia and south of Papua New Guinea) in 1898 led by Alfred Cort Haddon.


The Cooke Daniels expedition explored British New Guinea, the south east area of modern-day Papua New Guinea. On route the party stopped in Australia. They visited the Bensbach River in the west, close to the border with Dutch New Guinea, travelled to Port Moresby (the capital) and visited Waima and Mekeo in the central district. The trip continued south east and then explored the smaller islands: the Trobriand group, Marshall Bennett Islands and Muyua Island. Cooke Daniels hired and schooner and launch to motor up creeks and sail around the islands. Mersh Strong resigned when the exhibition returned to Port Moresby. 



Seligman sent reports to the Royal Anthropological Society of Great Britain on the trip's progress. An article in the April 1905 issue of 'Science' reported that the exhibition had left for New Guinea in September 1903 and had just recently arrived back in England. 

Objects collected on the expedition now at Pitt Rivers include tools, weapons such as arrows and clubs, canoe prows and betel crushers, musical instruments including bullroarers and drums, lime spatulas, and ornaments made of shell, feathers, and wallaby teeth. Collections are also held at The British Museum, the Horniman Museum, the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and the Australian Museum. As well as a collecting objects and specimens, the expedition also made photographs, film footage and sound recordings. 


1905.63.62 & 1905.63.42, armlets in the making from the
Trobriand Islands collected during the expedition.
On display in case 117.B in the Museum's Lower Gallery.

Seligman sorted and divided the objects, then donated collections to museums on Cooke Daniels' behalf. Seligman and Merch Strong wrote up the findings of the expedition in two articles entitled 'Anthropogeographical Investigations in British New Guinea' appearing in 1906 in the Geographical Journal. Seligman went on to publish 'The Melanesians of British New Guinea' in 1910. 

Cooke Daniels was a partner in the Daniels and Fisher stores in Denver, Colorado. Some of his ashes were stored in a lead box in the tower of the well known department store building. Cooke Daniels was known as a world traveller in his day. His ashes moved when the store moved location. 


Seligman and his wife Brenda Seligman studied and taught Anthropology, researching communities in Sri Lanka, Sudan, Egypt, China and Japan.


1998.271.58, photograph of a black and white drawing
of Charles Gabriel Seligman by artist William Rothenstein

Madeleine Ding
Assistant Curator

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Lace: facilitating knowledge exchange

On the 20th of February I welcomed a research visit from Nicolette Macovicky, Russian and East European Studies and David Hopkin, Faculty of History. They came to look at lace and lace related objects in the Pitt Rivers collections. Many people visiting the museum would assume that the collections whilst global are not local, they would be mistaken, much of the lace related material in the collections is from Oxfordshire and neighbouring counties. To highlight the more local objects in the collections, some of the objects retrieved for Nicolette and David's visit featured in the 2006-2009 ESRC-funded research project 'England: The Other Within: Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum'

The Pitt Rivers Museum are a partner in Nicolette and David's HEIF Heritage Knowledge Exchange funded project 'By the Poor, For the Rich: Lace in context. Bridging the gaps between archives, textiles and social history collections'. Other project partners include the Museum of English Rural Life and The Lace Guild. Both having expertise in social and historical contexts of lace and lace making it was very interesting for me to hear what Nicolette and David thought of the selection of objects they looked at on their visit.

Bobbin winder as reconstructed by conservation; 1911.29.17.  © Pitt Rivers Museum

Included in the selection were lace making tools such as this bobbin winder (1911.29.17), collected by folklorist and antiquarian Percy Manning. Manning spent most of his adult life collecting objects from Oxfordshire. This bobbin winder is from Launton, an Oxfordshire village on the eastern outskirts of Bicester. The bobbin winder itself was in poor condition and needed some remedial conservation work involving reconstructing the bobbin winder to figure out how it would have worked. The bobbin winder is a practical object and is very simple in design, compared with another example we have on display which is made from pieces of turned wood, this bobbin winder is rudimental in comparison but does exactly the same job. Inscribed on the bobbin winder is 'Machine for winding thread on to a bobbin used in lace making bought of Maria Woods of Launton, Oxon, 1894.'. Using information from the census, David hopes to be able to track down Maria Woods of Launton and find out more about her.


Also collected by Manning are the dick pot (1911.29.45), lace makers candle stand (1911.29.22) and horse (1911.29.20 .1). The 'horse' was used to rest the lace pillow on whilst working. Nicolette thought that the low height of this particular horse indicated that it could have been used by children or for teaching lace making. Adequate lighting was important in lace making, the candle stand was used to concentrate the light from a single candle and focus it on the lace pillow. Finally, the dick pot would have been used for hot embers, the lace makers would place the pot under their skirts to keep themselves warm. It is surprising that the dick pot does not have a lid and the dangers of catching fire to the voluminous skirts would have been likely. Sitting near a fire was not an option for fear of the smoke dirtying the lace thread with which they were working. Again, David is going to further research this by looking through old newspaper archives fro reports of accidents and fires involving lace makers.
Candle stand; 1911.29.22 © Pitt Rivers Museum



Lace 'horse' 1911.29.20 .1 © Pitt Rivers Museum
'Dick pot' 1911.29.45 © Pitt Rivers Museum





Lace making display in court, C.115.A © Pitt Rivers Museum

Of all the lace making material we have, the majority of the collection consists of beautifully made bobbins. There are bobbins made from both bone and wood, the bone ones being unique to the UK. The aesthetic around lace making is best illustrated by the lovingly crafted bobbins, often given as keepsakes and love tokens. They are weighted with glass beads which may have been traded from the continent. The square beads with impressed lines, made using a file, were made specifically for the bobbins to provide grip and prevent the bobbin from slipping when in place.

I look forward to seeing how the project progresses and hearing back from Nicollete and David once they have followed up some of the leads and done some further research. If you are interested in lace making, there is a display in the Museum Court, case 115.A, with a large number of bobbins and lace making  material.

Faye Belsey
Assistant Curator



Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Percy Manning Spinning Wheels

Percy Manning was an antiquarian and folklorist who spent much of his adult life around Oxfordshire. Manning's centenary celebrations occur in 2017 so in preparation for that I have done some research on some of the objects in his collection.


Along with 143 objects donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum, Manning donated objects to the Ashmolean Museum and his archives are in the Bodleian Library. Percy Manning gave three spinning wheels to the Pitt Rivers Museum.  Two upright spinning wheels from Great Tew in Oxfordshire and a portable spinning wheel from an unknown location.  Spinning wheels increase production of thread 10 fold compared to hand spinning with a distaff.

© Pitt Rivers Museum
Spinning wheel 1911.29.14 (left) 
This vertical spinning wheel is known as a ‘castle’ style.  The spinning wheel has two flyers so using two hands you can spin two threads at the same time.  This wheel would have been used to spin linen.  The wheel is turned with a foot treadle.  This spinning wheel is Flemish in style but could have been used anywhere.

Spinning wheel 1911.29.15 (below) 
The spinning wheel has a horizontal bed and is known as a ‘saxon’ type.  The bent rim wheel turns one flyer.  This wheel would spin fine thread.  This spinning wheel is typically English in style.

The two large spinning wheels came from Great Tew.  Great Tew is a rural village about 16 miles from Oxford.  Manning was interested in the village of Great Tew.  On a farm close to the village are the remains of a Roman settlement.  Manning kept articles about the Roman remains found at Beaconsfield Farm.  Tessellated pavements were found as early as 1810.  Manning also got information from Mr Matthew Boulton, the owner of Great Tew estate.  The village was an estate village with most of the population tenant farmers and craftspeople.  The village contains an exceptionally large number of listed buildings, built, rebuilt and renovated by a succession of landlords, and has a reputation as a picturesque village.

© Pitt Rivers Museum
© Pitt Rivers Museum

Spinning wheel 1911.29.16 (right). The girdle or belt spinning wheel is a working spinning wheel.  The small size means that the tool could be tucked into a belt when being used.  The spinner turns the handle on the right hand side.  This turns the cog, which turns the flyer.  The material ready to be made into thread is held in the distaff.  James Webster of Salop was a manufacturer of this type of wheel.  The Webster family were clock makers.

For more information on spinning see Spinning Wheels, Spinners and Spinning by Patricia Baines, published London 1977.

Thanks to Alan Raistrik, independent scholar, for information provided.

Madeleine Ding
Assistant Curator