December 18, 2010


Frederick C. Gamst collected this small grinding stone from the surface of the site at Koken, Eritrea, in 1964. His research in the horn of Africa in the 1960's led him to argue that civilization and urban centers are not necessarily related or codependent and that in preliterate western Africa urbanism existed without civilization.
Gamst collection included two other objects from Koken; all them dated back to the Neolithic. The catalogue card includes a bibliographic reference for a 1954 paper written by A.J. Arkell, a British Army lieutenant stationed in Khartoum, Sudan.
I previously mentioned that a complete inventory of the African archaeological collections was one of the first projects I started in my tenure at the museum. The accession file didn't include a copy of the paper and to my disappointment it was not available in any of the University of California libraries or the United States.
A few internet searches later I was surprised to find out that my friend and colleague Cinzia Perlingieri was involved with the archaeological site of Koken - as ceramic expert - in the late 1990's. She provided a copy of the paper for the museum file, told me stories about the site and the people who worked there and what doing archaeological research in difficult places like the Horn of Africa entailed.
Arkell's paper is historically significant albeit a little too technical and dry. Cinzia and her colleagues wrote shorter summaries of their research at Koken.You can read them here and here.

Hearst Museum 5-4711
Africa, Eritrea, Agordat, Koken
Collected by Frederick C. Gamst, March 1965


While driving to work one morning I distractedly heard the voice on the radio saying: 
There's a tiny island called Yap out in the Pacific Ocean. Economists love it because it helps answer this really basic question: What is money?
It was the beginning of a story from NPR Morning Edition and as I kept driving I thought: I bet it involves some kind of shell.
Well, I was wrong and that story did not involve shells at all. In fact, historic Yapese people used imported limestone disks, some so big they can be hardly moved - the equivalent of a safe I guess - as their main form of currency for their trades and exchanges.

PAHMA curates a rather large archaeological collection from Oceania mostly due to the sizable assemblages that were excavated by Edward W. Gifford between 1947 and 1956. He was, at that time, director of the museum after he succeeded Alfred L. Kroeber in 1947.
These are large shell trumpets from Yap where Gifford and his wife had their last archaeological expedition in early 1956. During this project they found seven of these trumpets on the island, two were from archaeological context; the rest like those featured here, on the surface.

Shell disks and pendants were, however, also used as currency perhaps unsurprisingly as "small change". Somehow I knew that my stereotypical expectation couldn't be completely off target.

Hearst Museum # 11-36962 and 11-36964
Shell trumpets (Charonia tritonis)
Micronesia; Caroline Islands; Yap
Collected by Edward W. Gifford, March 1956

December 9, 2010


Whether or not a landowner has the right of possession of any archaeological resource that may exist on his land differs from country to country. Here in the United States the law favors the property rights of the landowner, in Italy - my native country - it does not.
Albert Viereck was born at his family farm at Neuhof-Kowas, not far from the city of Windhoek. A man with many interests, Viereck introduction to archaeology happened later in life after a visit to the painted shelters in the Brandberg mountains. Since South Africa then favored the rights of landowners (I don't know if the law had since changed) Viereck began collecting and recording artifacts and archaeological features on his farmland. He spent the following three decades researching and studying those artifacts and also ventured to investigate further away from his property; he recorded 129 archaeological sites, presented his results to international conferences and published papers and reports; all the while self-educating himself in the field. His largest collections were donated to the South West Africa Scientific Society a few years before his passing in 1982.

This quartzite point was presented to the museum by Viereck himself; I imagine through the auspices of prof. Clark who had  joined the faculty at UC Berkeley  in 1961 after his tenure at the National Museum of Zambia. The two men met in 1960 when Viereck participated to the Archaeological Winter School in Livingstone.
This type of tool is called a Stillbay point, after the prehistoric period during which it was made and used. It is the "type" point for the Stillbay period. The makers of similar points were hunter-gatherers of the Middle Stone Age who lived in southern Africa around and possibly before 65,000-70,000 years ago.
PAHMA has 17 Stillbay points and other tools, mostly from the Republic of South Africa and Kenya.

Hearst Museum #5-2467
Point; uniface; ovate
Namibia; Neuhof Kowas
Collected by Albert Viereck, 1962