Northeastern (46th Annual) and North-Central (45th Annual) Joint Meeting (20–22 March 2011)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 1:30 PM-5:30 PM


FELDMAN, Howard R., Biology Department, Touro College, 227 W. 60th Street, New York, NY 10023, ROSENFELD, Amnon, Geological Survey of Israel, 30 Malkhe Israel Street, Jerusalem, 95501, Israel and DVORACHEK, Michael, Geological Survey of Israel, 30 Malkhei Israel Street, Jerusalem, 95501, Israel,

Brass figurines from West Africa ranging from 10.5-34.1 cm in height are analyzed archaeometrically. They can be characterized by a unique elongation of the limbs, heads and torsos; some have scarification marks and serpent-like ornamentation. The figurines exhibit elements characteristic of both the Jenne and Dogon cultures. Their typology, as well as their composition of copper (66%) and zinc (28 %) together with a high content of the trace elements arsenic (0.9%), iron (Fe 0.7%) and nickel (0.4%), is consistent with the chemical make-up of the alloy brass. The zinc content can be a decisive indication for dating brass artifacts since its content in brass increased over time. The figurines probably originated in the Dogon (present day Mali). Some of them have thick deposits of calcium carbonate, suggesting that they were hidden in a cave and buried in carbonate-rich surroundings. Almost all the figurines have layered red, black, blue and green patinas resulting in a mottled texture and exhibiting the weathering minerals of copper and zinc (i.e. cuprite, malachite, azurite and calamine). From a comparison of the alloy composition we suggest that the Hartz Mountains may well be the origin of the brass from which the West African figurines are constructed. We believe that all of the brass figurines presented here were made during the same period and consider them to be a product of skilled artisans influenced by the old style Jenne culture similar to the older Jenne terracotta figurines and the more recent Dogon-Tellem traditions. This combination so called “Jennenke style” also has some Islamic components. Typologically, historically as well as chemically, these West African brass figurines can be dated between the end of the 15th and 17th centuries CE.