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Bookblitz: The Oldest Book in the Collection

So far in our Bookblitz series, we've shared some fairly old volumes from our Library collections. However, not many come close to the age of this book.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

De Materia Medica is a hugely influential early medical text, first written almost 2000 years ago, around 40-90AD. Our volume isn't quite that age, but is an edition of the last book (there 5 in total) printed in 1529.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

The text is printed in its original Greek, accompanied by a Latin translation and a newer Latin 'interpretation', probably added in the 1500s.

  • The text is printed in ancient Greek and Latin, with a newer 'interpres' in Latin, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Our copy was rebound in the 1800s, and is accompanied by an additional 1830 commentary on all 5 books in De Materia Medica.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

There is lots of bookworm damage clearly visible both to the binding and throughout the pages, although the beetle larvae which caused this have long-since died.

  • Our De Materia Medica has noticeable pest damage, but is in relatively good condition for its age, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    , Photo by Vicky Pearce

Still, this elderly book is in better condition than many Victorian volumes which, while younger, were produced in greater numbers and at lower cost.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

De Materia Medica remained in print for 1500 years, becoming the supreme authority for European medicine for centuries. It's author, a Roman physician of Greek origin called Pedanius Dioscorides, became known as the 'father of pharmacology' for his extensive advice concerning the creations and applications of medicines.

  • De Materica Medica V, The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce
    The oldest book in the Horniman Library, Photo by Vicky Pearce

Today, digitised copies of De Materia Medica can be accessed online. It remains a prime source of information about medicines used by the Greeks, Romans, and other ancient cultures.

Tales of the Unexpected: Dolly Mixture

The Collections People Stories team is currently working under the theme of Family and Home. Here Collections Assistant Alix introduces us to some of the dolls she's discovered in the stores.

Play, craft, recycling, resourcefulness and imagination: all characteristics we associate with childhood. So when Team Haddon started reviewing the toys and games in the museum’s collection, we instantly fell in love with the homemade dolls. Here I’ll share some of the Horniman Museum’s more unusual ones.

The doll above was collected in Bethnal Green, London, is made from a mutton bone and has handmade clothes made from scraps of material. This doll has always made me sad and although I thought it was unique in our collection it turns out I was wrong.

Another child, halfway around the world in Zanskar, India, also wanted a doll and made one using materials to hand – another mutton bone! This time it is decorated with scraps of material, a zip, shells and plastic.

Here is another bone doll, this time made from a bird. This amazing little doll is from Surrey, England and is made from a wish bone - the perfect shape for legs! The clothes are made from a scrap of leather decorated with beads and the head is made from an acorn. The acorn cup makes the perfect topknot hairstyle, or perhaps a hat.

Utilising food components that cannot be eaten, such as bones, is excellent recycling. In these little dolls from Virginia, USA, the cornhusk has been utilised. We particularly love the little banjo player.

Some of the dolls in our collection could even be eaten, if you have the heart. This doll is from Denver and has an apple for a head. The apple would have been fresh but with time has dried out; well we did acquire this example in 1984!

What goes well with apple? Well fig of course! This doll from Kandahar, Afghanistan is made from dried figs threaded onto cord and tied to create a human form. Little squares of fabric form the hands, feet and a necklace. He’s still sticky and has to be kept in silicone release paper when in storage at the museum.

Seaweed is also edible, and delicious, and that is what this little doll from South Wales is made from. It has little shell arms, seed hands and has a painted face.

And then there is the wonder material that is the humble gourd. We find it in every part of our collection and now we have found it forming the head of this doll from Nigeria.

In addition to all of these amazing items, we have many other dolls from all over the world, and made from more conventional materials such as wood, plastic, pottery and textile. Our collection of dolls, and other toys, can be explored through our online collections.

Bookblitz: Another Frederick Hornemann

During the Bookblitz of our historic volumes, our librarian Helen came across a book that seemed at first as if it might contain a typo or two. 'Frederick Horneman's Travels in Africa' sounds like it might be an account of our founder's adventures during which he gathered some of the museum's collection.

But on closer inspection this volume is quite a bit older than our own Frederick John Horniman, who was born in 1835. The book contains an account of the incredible travels of a German man with a name rather similar to that of our founder.

Friedrich Hornemann (his name is anglicised to 'Frederick' for our volume, while the last 'n' is removed in the printed version) spent years exploring parts of Africa which no Europeans had travelled to in around 100 years.

  • The Journal of Frederick Horneman's Travels, The printers didn't seem to agree with Hornemann about the spelling of his name
    The printers didn't seem to agree with Hornemann about the spelling of his name

His 'Travels' contains both handwritten entries and printed accounts translated from the original German for the years 1797-8, during which he travelled the 'Interior of Africa', setting out from Cairo in Egypt. He was just 24 at the time.

Hornemann was perhaps a good deal more of an intrepid traveller than our founder, who obtained most of his collection by buying it from other explorers, and only travelled widely much later in life.

It is tempting to imagine our own Frederick Horniman reading these accounts, perhaps developing a desire to do some of his own travelling in and collecting from 'undiscovered' lands.

  • Our Frederick Horniman's own bookplate, Hornemann's journal was a part of our founder's own personal library
    Hornemann's journal was a part of our founder's own personal library

Hornemann's account is punctuated by his hand drawn maps of the regions, while large fold out charts by Major James Rennel are added to this volume to show his whole journey.

Also included are a number of letters and minute documents detailing the preparations needed to arrange for his trip, which was undertaken on behalf of the London-based African Association (explaining why his journal is written in English).

They provide a brilliant insight into 18th century travel, detailing the expenses expected to occur (including a compass, telescope and sextant), languages Hornemann would learn in advance and his need to become familiar with the 'manner and customes of all such stangers'.

We're unsure what happened to this world explorer. It seems he kept travelling for the rest of his life, and in 1803 was recorded as being in Tripoli. It is thought that he died in 1819, somewhere in or near Nigeria. No other European explorer followed his route again until 1910.

#MuseumWeek: Get Involved

Last week we announced that the Horniman is taking part in the first ever #MuseumWeek. Organised by Twitter UK, the project aims to gather hundreds of museums across the UK and Europe together to celebrate how Twitter can help them connect people with art, culture, history and science in new ways.

For one week, starting on Monday 24 March, hundreds of museums will take to Twitter and share their stories using the project's daily hashtags as inspiration. Here's what we have planned at the Horniman:

Monday - #DayInTheLife

We're aiming to give our followers a look into the daily lives of as many museums departments as possible. Join us as we pop our heads into offices and join Horniman staff on the front lines. You can even take to tweeting yourself and let us now which parts of museum life you'd like to see.

Tuesday - #MuseumMastermind

It's time to swot up on your Horniman trivia as we pose quizzes and questions about our history and collection. We've also got a surprise up our sleeve so be prepared for a challenge.

Wednesday - #MuseumMemories

Join us to take a trip down memory lane as staff and visitors alike share their earliest memories of the Horniman. Have you been visiting since you were small or are we a recent discovery - we'd love to hear what's stuck in your mind.

Thursday - #BehindTheArt

This is a day to celebrate what goes on behind the scenes to keep our collections safe and get them out on display for the public to see. We'll be sharing all the hard work our staff do to make this happen.

Friday - #AskTheCurator

Ever wanted to know exactly what's inside the Walrus? How to tell the difference betwen a harpsichord and a clavichord? Or what it takes to care for our adorable alpacas? We have experts in areas all across the Horniman standing by to answer your questions.

Saturday - #MuseumSelfies

The museum theme of the moment is back, with a day dedicated to sharing your selfies taken in museums. The best kind, of course, being one with a walrus - why not use this weekend to snap a pic with our most famous resident? Make sure to include the #selfiewiththewalrus hashtag when you share it and it might even make it to our Pinterest board.

Sunday - #GetCreative

And finally, Sunday is a day to be inspired by our collections. We want to hear from you what your more unusual Horniman highlights are (after all, it's not all about the Walrus). What are your 'must-sees' for a visit and what would you include on a treasure trail around the Museum?

You can track the project using the #MuseumWeek hashtag or follow our account to see what we're sharing.

We'd love you to get involved and join the conversation: remember, if you're tweeting about Museums next week, don't forget to include the #MuseumWeek hashtag.

Bookblitz: Man, his Structure and Physiology

The next find from our Bookblitz of the historic library collections may not be to everybody's taste, but to those with an interest in scientific illustration this book is something quite special.

Once owned by Frederick Horniman himself, 'Man: His Structure and Physiology' was written by Robert Knox, a Scottish surgeon best known for his use of bodies from the infamous Burke and Hare murders.

Although he was never prosecuted for his involvement in the crimes, Knox found himself understandably unpopular in Edinburgh. In 1842, after the death of his wife, he made the decision to move to London where he became a science journalist and published several works, including this one.

Knox illustrated his work not only with black and white diagrams, but with intricately detailed colour illustrations.

Many 19th century medical texts feature similar images, but this volume from our library is quite special. The book's frontipiece proudly declares it includes 'eight moveable dissected coloured plates'.

Each of the coloured illustrations folds out to reveal more details of human anatomy.

Some have several layers to be revealed.

Knox also address some smaller parts of the human body with as much detail.

'Man: His Structure and Physiology' covers every part of the human body, with the exception of genetalia.

Despite his influential early career, Knox's reputation never recovered. Although he continued to publish works on human anatomy, he found it impossible to work as a surgeon, and his books about fishing sold best.

Our Community Fieldworkers Explore Anthropology and Exhibit their Art

Nicola, Skills for the Future trainee at the Horniman, reports on the art exhibition held to exhibit the work from the Community Fieldworkers project.

The Community Fieldworkers project took 34 South Londoners on an adventure in Anthropology. Over 7 weeks they were sent 18 postcards, each on with a different object from the Anthropology Collection on it. They were asked to ‘Make, Investigate or Tell a Story’ around one or all of the objects.

In February their fantastic and varied responses were showcased at the Community Fieldworkers Exhibition.

  • Community Fieldworkers Exhibtion, Photo by Megan Taylor
    , Photo by Megan Taylor

The public joined friends and family of the Community Fieldworkers in the Gardens’ Pavilion to see the exhibition, which included sculptures, collage, conceptual artworks and photography.

  • Community Fieldworkers art work, Photo by Megan Taylor
    , Photo by Megan Taylor

They were also treated to a live performance by Community Fieldworker Rupert whose spoken word reading of his poetry anthology 'An Anthropology of 18 objects – A Field Guide' wowed the crowd.

  • Rupert performs his poetry anthology at the Community Fieldworkers exhibition, Photo by Beth Atkinson
    , Photo by Beth Atkinson

South East London Artists Network’s animation was also on display. It revealed how they had created their artworks based on the four postcards they had chosen – including postcard No.2.

The Marshall Islands navigation chart that appeared on postcard No.2 was the most popular object inspired a diverse range of responses.

One was Paulette’s ‘people clock’, which explored how her bike ride to school with her daughter was timed using the people they saw on the route.

  • Paulette shows off her Community Fieldworkers project, Photo by Megan Taylor
    , Photo by Megan Taylor

Other interpretations included Neville’s impressive navigation chart of London that showed the journey to museums around the capital and Sarah’s beautiful representation of the object.

  • Neville's own navigation chart showing London museums, Photo by Megan Taylor
    , Photo by Megan Taylor

  • Sarah and her interpretation of the Marshall islands chart, Photo by Megan Taylor
    , Photo by Megan Taylor

It was a fantastic day that brought the Community Fieldworkers together to talk about their ideas and show how they had explored the Horniman Museum and Gardens’ collection in a creative way.

  • The Horniman Community Fieldworkers, Photo by Megan Taylor
    , Photo by Megan Taylor

You can see more photographs from the Community Fieldworkers exhibition on Flickr.

Five Go Collecting: Kingly Swords

Modern-day collector Farhana updates us on her fieldwork in Bangladesh, where she has been aiming to collect objects as part of the Horniman Collecting Initiative.

I am in the early stages of my fieldwork in Bandarban, contextualizing and deepening my knowledge of the Marma community. I am trying to understand how Marma people remember and celebrate their unique history, and have begun by studying those who are the leaders of the Marma community – the Bohmong families.

When visiting the current leader, Bohmong-Gree U Chaw Prue, I noticed photos of previous Bohmongs on his wall. They all appear to be carrying the same sword with gold ornate hilt as part of their ceremonial dress.

Apparently, every Bohmong has inherited a kingly sword. All previous swords appear to be lost but the one in these photos still lives on. It is thought to have been a gift from a British governor to this region, possibly Thomas Herbert Lewin in the period 1864 to 1875.

In order to understand the origins of this kingly blade and the symbolic power that it holds, we need to delve into the history of this dynasty.

The Bohmong families are descendents of the legendary Emperor Tabin Shweti (1531-1551) of the historical Pegu Empire in neighbouring Myanmar (Burma).

In 1599, Emperor Tabin Shweti’s successor, Emperor Nanda Baran was defeated and killed in a battle against a formidable coalition made up of the kings of Taungoo, Siam and Arakan. The King of Arakan took the son and daughter of the dead king as captives.

Accompanying these surviving members of the royal family were 33,000 ‘faithful followers’, thought to be members of the royal court of Pegu. They carried the spoils of war and symbols of royal power - weapons, gold and four white elephants - to the court of Arakan. (I wonder at this point whether the bodyguard’s swords in the photo may date back to this period.)

In 1614, the captured Pegu prince, Maung Saw Pyne, was sent to Chittagong, then part of Arakan province. He defended the region against Portuguese pirates and was honoured with the title of ‘Bohmong’, the King of the Generals. He was given a sword which is lost.

In 1710, the then King of Arakan and the 4th Bohmong Hari Nyo were able to re-conquer the region after it had been invaded by Mughal forces. In return for his valour, Hari Nyo was given the title of Bohmong-Gree – the Great King of The Generals.

In 1900, now part of the British Empire, the Chittagong region was divided into three circles, with each headed by a Circle Chief. The descendents of the Pegu prince became Bohmong rulers of the Bandarban circle. The present Bohmong Chief is the 17th of his dynasty.

Therefore the history of the Bohmong family has its roots in central Myanmar (Burma), but the captive prince of Pegu became a ruler again in his new incarnation as the Bohmong of Bandarban, and the ‘faithful followers’ have become part of the present-day Marma community.

It appears that the original sword that was lost has been reintroduced in the twentieth century: it represents military prowess in the face of Portuguese and Mughal invaders, and shows that Bohmong authority was sanctioned both by the Kings of Arakan and the British Empire.

Although it does not seem possible that the Bohmongs of the twentieth century would have been directly involved in battle, it is likely that the early renditions of this sword were more than symbols of military prowess; they were battle-ready swords.

The sword has gained significance through its placement in this dynasty’s story, even though it is a relatively new addition to the ceremonial wardrobe. It expresses a commitment to maintaining a link with an ancestral heritage, connecting the present with different moments in the history of these people. Moreover, it reinstates the vanquished prince of Pegu to his former kingly power.

Tales of the Unexpected: Peculiar Pipes

The Collections People Stories project is moving on through the stores, checking and photographing thousands of objects. Collections Assistant Clare has updated us on some of her team's favourite discoveries.

Since moving on to our current theme of Health and Healing the review teams have explored and processed some truly weird and wonderful objects. However none have been so varied in type and style as those in our pipe collection.

First started back in August, this part of the review has been slowly working its way through 2 Bays and over 1900 objects to date.

Having briefly investigated the bays before setting to work on the Narcotics and Intoxicants section, it appeared that a significant amount of the collection came from Europe, and particularly England. Therefore, we were expecting the vast majority of the section to be pipes, and especially clay ones. We certainly have a few.



Fortunately the collection has, as always, surprised us and the review teams have been on a whirlwind adventure around the world. From trying to work out exactly how these pipes from New Guinea would have been used...

...to figuring out how hookah pipes fit together, and why there are so many animals decorating pipe bowls across the globe.

We were also excited to find some truly beautiful and intricate objects. 

Even if this does mean that occasionally our conservator needs to work out where a wolf has become detached from.

Five Go Collecting: An Update from India

As part of the Horniman Collecting Initiative, Gorby Jandu aims to gather turbans from the Sikh diaspora. In his previous update, he gave us an introduction to this religio-cultural item of clothing, and now returns to report on his fieldwork experiences.

In a recent field trip to Punjab, India, I spent two weeks looking at the material culture associated with the turban in the daily lives of Sikhs in rural areas of Northern India.

Seechewal, located some 50 kms Southwest of the city of Jalandhar was the location of this particular ethnographic study. The Parish town and its closely knit hamlet villages have a population of about 800 people, a number decreasing as younger people go overseas to find work, leaving behind a majority of elderly people, children and women.

The annual trips the men make back to the town normally coincides with significant lifecycle events such as births, deaths or marriages. If not then the trip coincides with vaisakhi – the harvest festival, an annual highlight of the Sikh calendar and a time of song, dance and of course, lots of food.

The research took in the daily routines of the few remaining male farmers who work on large tracts of verdant landscape in this semi-rural set town that supplies the raw commodities of milk and seed. These are sent to the city’s factories for processing into finished goods like paneer, a local cottage cheese used in luxury food dishes, and roti, the staple chapatti foodstuff eaten everywhere.

Whilst there, the research also happily coincided with a wedding taking place in the family of the town’s administrator-general (traditionally called sarpanch). This was a matter of high-importance as his son was marrying the daughter of the neighbouring village’s sarpanch! The wedding lasted a week, during which all non-essential activities in many villages around the town were ceased, the village the sarpanch was from sent their cows to a neighbouring farmer during the wedding as they would be too busy to milk them for the duration of the family’s wedding celebrations – all two weeks of them!

This is a picture of the groom, Ranjit, 24 years of age.

The bulk of the research took place around the lifestyles of the land-working class, such as that of Harinder’s family: he is pictured below taking a dip in what he jokingly called a ‘Punjabi swimming pool’. It is in fact a open water pump tank, called a khua in Punjabi. The khua itself has an iconic status in Punjabi folklore and is romantically linked to a place the famous forbidden lovers Sohni and Mehival and many after them met. It is more likely that the scarcity of water in Punjab before the Green Revolution contributed to its high regard in a region that is considered to be India’s breadbasket.

The town operates a traditional occupation caste system that meant that Harinder and his family have worked the same plots of land for over four generations. Harinder, now 24 years of age, is a self-employed carpenter in Dubai who only helps with land-tending when free. He has no wish to continue the family tradition and is hoping to be able to purchase the land that his family’s homestead stands on.

Harinder’s situation and many like them all over East Punjab are interesting examples of the changes that were conceptualised by Emile Durkheim, the 19th Century sociologist, about the changes that societies like these that transform from mechanical to organic solidarity.

A Christmas Curiosity: Jorbba Gisa

As the Collections People Stories team have been making their way through the Anthropology collections, they’ve made some pretty fascinating finds.

One particularly intriguing object was ‘nn11104’ (‘nn’ meaning ‘no number’).

It was originally labelled as a ‘charm’ and stored with other similar objects. What made it stand out was not just the fine craftsmanship, but the tiny handwritten labels that had been carefully attached.

Collections Assistant Rachel decided to investigate further. She headed to the internet armed with the text ‘Jorbba Gisa’, which she discovered is a Norwegian term.

By complete coincidence, another group of objects were discovered on the same day, in another part of the collection, by another member of the team.

These tiny objects were unnumbered and without any accompanying information, but it was clearly the same script on their handwritten labels.

Interest sparked, Deputy Keeper of Anthropology Fiona decided to contact an expert in Norwegian material. Leif Pareli, Curator at the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo, was able to tell immediately that our ‘Jorba Gisa’ wasn’t a charm at all, but a small model of an everyday object from the Saami culture in Norway: a type of reindeer pack saddle.

He was also able to tell us a lot more of the fascinating story of where these miniatures came from.

The ‘charms’ were made by an extraordinary Saami man called Lars Hætta. Lars found himself imprisoned in Oslo with his brother Aslak and sister-in-law Elen for their participation in the Kautokeino uprising (1852). Aslak was beheaded but Lars (because of his young age —18 at the time of the uprising) and Elen were pardoned to prison for life.

While in prison from 1854 to 1867, Lars made beautiful models of everyday objects as he knew them. These were bought by the University in Oslo and became the beginning of a collection which eventually opened as the Ethnographic Museum, now part of Kulturhistorisk Museum, in 1857.

Today Lars’ work can be found in The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, the National Museum of Denmark, and The Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford.

Lars was pardoned in 1867, he then returned home where he died in 1896. His creations remain a wonderful depiction of the material culture of Saami people in the early 19th century.

We are very proud to say we have some of Lars' creations at the Horniman, particularly at this time of year when our 'Jorbba Gisa' can show us just how Father Christmas might be getting his reindeer to carry all our presents.

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