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Museum Mondays: Shrunken heads and crumbly swords in an investigation of objects

March 24, 2014

Most of us, whether we admit it or not, are captivated by the idea of shrunken heads. How did the Shuar people of Ecuador and Peru produce a palm-sized human head? Where did the heads come from? Were they trophies of war?

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A man’s face lies cold on a sidewalk, blood running from an invisible wound. It’s a black and white photograph, so the blood is perceptible as shades of gray. Is he dead? Was he murdered? Why would someone capture such an image?

What does a crumbly metal sword have to say? Thousands of years of burial have erased the fine detail, sharp edges, and decorative hilt. Imagine forging iron for the first time. Its creator had mastered bronze, but bronze requires less heat to forge than iron.

Five mandibles are bound to a gourd calabash from Cameroon. These are genuine human mandibles. Why are they attached to a vessel used to consume wine? How did these individuals meet their demise?

The French artist George Rouault made prints that reflected the duality of human freedom and suffering. Clowns featured prominently in Rouault’s work from the early 1900s. How did Rouault use clowns to reflect the human condition?

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If you had no written language and wanted to record your community’s history, how might you do this? The Kanak people of New Caledonia used bamboo tubes as their “paper” and incised detailed images and designs to record stories about colonial contact. What do the pictographs tell us?

Waka means rootstock in the Fijian language. But a war club made from the rootstock of a young tree is not just a weapon, it’s a manifestation of power or mana. From where does this power come?

Do inquiring minds want to learn more? The new exhibit on the second floor of the Logan Museum, Object Investigations 2014, will reveal the answers to these questions and showcase the results of original research by students in Nicolette Meister’s Introduction to Collections Management class.

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