June 25, 2010


These quartzite tools (a core, a truncation and a geometric) were collected between 1964 and 1965 at Dindori 3, a site along the banks of the Narmada River, India. The tools are included in a sizable collection of paleolithic implements from about 30 discrete localities in the Narmada Valley in India. The archaeological expedition was organized by Theodore D. McCown and one of his students, George V. Shkurkin. Sadly it would be McCown's last field season as he passed away in 1969 after more than 30 years at UC Berkeley, first as a student and later as faculty and museum curator. The collections were then accessioned to the PAHMA and used by prof. J. Desmond Clark (and others) for teaching and research. Professor Clark went himself on archaeological expeditions in India in the 1980's.
Another prominent UC Berkeley anthropologist, Sherwood Washburn, recalled how McCown was convinced that the testing ground to understand human evolution laid to the east. The land between Palestine, where his father worked as biblical archaeologist, and India was where he thought Dryopithecines had space and time to develop the variations that eventually led to modern apes and humans.
Below is what McCown wrote to campus administrators prior to his leave of absence from the university: 
The purpose of my sabbatic leave is to spend from October 1964 to May 1965 in India, investigating and excavating Pleistocene localities containing assemblages of paleolithic tools and/or fossil fauna materials. The principal localities to be tested lie in the central and eastern parts of the state of Madhya Pradesh between the town of Hosangabad and Jubbulpore. The area is one I visited and surveyed during five weeks in the spring and summer of 1958 on sabbatic leave from the University. A number of promising localities were visited, but it became obvious that the main stream of the Narmada River poses problems whose solutions will have to be sought along the tributary systems running it from Vindhya mountains to the north and the Satpuras to the south. No systematic investigation has been made of the remnants of the terrace system, especially where they have been dissected by the Narmada's tributaries.

Hearst Museum #9-10093; 9-10074; 9-10072
India; Madhya Pradesh; Narmada valley; Dindori 3
Collected by Theodore D. McCown and George V. Shkurkin, 1964-1965

June 24, 2010


These clay figurines are from Karkarinchinkat Nord, a neolithic site in the Tilemsi Valley, Republic of Mali. They were excavated in 1972 by Dr. Andrew Smith as part of his doctoral dissertation. A radiocarbon date of the stratigraphic horizon indicated that they were buried between 2000 and 1360 B.C.
Simple, small figurines similar to these are commonly found among the remains of early agro-pastoral villages in Africa, Europe and the Near East. I excavated two myself (here's an example) while working at the neolithic tell of Çatalhöyük, Turkey, a few years back. Together with the simplicity of their human shape, a common feature is the large, flat bottom, which likely served the purpose of having them sitting on small chairs or stools. Elaborate, finely crafted sets of figurines were found in Neolithic villages in Southeastern Europe (e.g., from Cucuteni, Romania) and their significance and use within a particular household or the entire community have been variously interpreted. The figurines from Karkarinchinkat, even accounting for their considerable age, seem to have been fashioned in a rather expedient way without a great attention to details. Not far from where the figurines were excavated laid the burial of a young child. Although the two archaeological features were not considered associated, it is still possible to imagine that these figurines could be child toys.

The numerous toys and game pieces that are housed at the PAHMA, both archaeological and ethnographic, were made using various materials; stone, grasses, ivory, bones and wood. Below the figurines are two objects from the African collection, all of them made with clay.

Hearst Museum # 5-11898
Mali; Tilemsi Valley; Karkarinchinkat Nord
Collected by Andrew Smith, 1972

Hearst Museum # 5-13623
Clay figurine, hump-backed (Zebu) cow; modern ethnographic; child’s toy.
Africa; Malawi
Collected and donated by J. Desmond Clark, 1965


Hearst Museum # 5-10656
Fired clay cylinders; roulette decoration on surface (gaming pieces?)
Africa; Mali; Tin Aberz
Collected by J. Desmond Clark, 1972

June 2, 2010


One of the largest accession of Old World archaeology at the PAHMA includes the assemblages collected during the University of California African Expeditions in 1947 and 1948. The availability of these collections for teaching and scholarly research raised an interest that, within few years, contributed to turn the Berkeley campus as one of the world's most active center for African prehistory.

As customary for museum collections devoted to teaching, assemblages were sometimes broken down in smaller sets that represent specific periods or technological phases. Over the years, students and researchers left notes and comments - most often than not on scrap pieces of paper - about the items they were studying. One note was found at the bottom of a small box containing these three objects from a locality near the Taungs Limeworks, Republic of South Africa. The author signed the comment though the signature is unfortunately hard to read making it impossible to date it with certainty. In my personal opinion it could be from the early 1950's. Here is the note's transcription:

The larger specimen (brown) is an excellent evolved Middle Stone Age point with reduction of the bulb of percussion on the cleavage face. Such points occur in developed phases of the M.S.A. but are never common. The dark chert point is also evolved M.S.A. The curvature is probably merely fortuitous. The white quartz specimen is not significant.

Hearst Museum 5-8902
Middle Stone Age Points
Republic of South Africa; Cape Province; Taungs Limeworks
Collected by Charles L. Camp and Frank E. Peabody, 1947-1949

Hearst Museum 5-8901
Quartz crystal
Republic of South Africa; Cape Province; Taungs Limeworks
Collected by Charles L. Camp and Frank E. Peabody, 1947-1949