Update from Tanzania by Dr. John McNabb: A postcard from Africa 3

Today (Thursday 1st May) is a national holiday in Tanzania so James and I had a more relaxed day visiting the galleries of the National Museum of Tanzania. The museum is an impressive place with really up to date galleries on human evolution and rock art. I took a lot of photos which will make their way into my lectures. The ethnographic collection also impressed me with the range and variety of material on display, reflecting Tanzania’s rich cultural heritage both past and present. One of the many things that grabbed my attention were the intricate carvings in ebony. There were both ancient and modern examples on display, demonstrating the continuity of this sophisticated tradition of woodworking overtime. Some of them were truly astonishing in their detail. There were representations of devils, multi-bodied, sinuous and intertwined that were quite unsettling.


Fig Tree

100 year old Fig tree in front of the National Museum with @JamesColeArch. Taken by Dr. John McNabb

For the past few days we have been systematically working our way through the Isimila archive and stone tool collections in the museum’s Stone Age section. Just walking through the stacks is like listening to a lecture from my undergraduate days; there were draws of Oldowan tools and Acheulean handaxes, and famous site names like MNK, FLK, EFHR, and many others. I could almost hear my old mentor Roger Jacobi lecturing once more on Olduvai Gorge. He had a way of conjuring mind-pictures as he taught that made those far off African landscapes seem alive. To walk through the National Museum’s stacks and peer into the draws brought it all flooding back. Isimila too was part of Roger’s lectures.

It’s a pretty sizeable collection, more than three thousand objects so we weren’t doing any detailed recording on this trip. Our aim was to get to know the collection, look through it and find out what was there. Unfortunately Pastory had teaching commitments in the University so he couldn’t join us. There is a considerable range of material from the old Clark Howell excavations. Some of the nicest handaxes I have ever seen and some of the biggest too, same goes for cleavers. Every time I handle one of these LCTs my respect for the Acheulean knappers increases, especially for their skills in making the flake blanks. They are as impressive and important as the finished artefacts.

Tomorrow it’s back to the museum for more meetings with Tanzanian colleagues and another chance to look at more fantastic archaeology.

Wishing you all were here