Collections Assistant

The working day of Cape Town’s Archaeology-Cool-Kids-Club

Cape Town has been relatively grey this week; I woke up this morning thinking I was back in York. Having got my bearings correct I set about the morning getting ready for work. I’m the new archaeology intern at the Iziko South African Museum ( and for Day of Archaeology I’m basically going to play the role of a journalist, going around asking people about their day and taking photos. So let’s start with my day.


Iziko South African Museum

Keneiloe (Kenni) Molopyane


Bioarchaeologist turned Physical Anthropology PhD candidate

At some point in the morning I finally made it to my office in the Archaeology Department bracing myself for a relatively calm day filled with admin work, gathering Physical Anthropology data for my potential PhD proposal and sorting out my relocation logistics… I quickly slip into my general intern routine that includes running up and down the stairs to collect the mass amount of prints I send to the printing machine one floor above us. Then it’s a quick scanning of the notice-board, which I inherited from the last intern. I decided it didn’t need any updating today besides; I have somehow managed to paste the wall around the actual notice-board with short articles, notices, comics and job/funding posts. The actual notice-board is bare!! I seem to have some mad skills there. Right, then it’s my favourite part of the day, reading emails. Depending on how many emails I’ve sent out the previous day determines how many responses I get back and for how long I’m going to be sat in front of my computer. The most interesting bit of news from the electronic mailman is that my new office at the next institution I’ll be tutoring at is in the basement! How awesome, I get a crypt-like office!! My dream of becoming “Bones” is that much closer to becoming reality; I’m a bioarchaeologist by the way. I’m more interested skeletal or mummified remains of past peoples than I am of the artefacts left behind. I’m the creepy chick in the department.

Emails, done; printing, done; coffee *slurp* finished; and so I grab my camera and dash out over to Iziko Social History centre to go bug the guys up at Historical/ Maritime Archaeology. I started my Iziko career over in that building in Maritime Archaeology, so it’s always grand to just chill up there with the guys over a cup of coffee, laugh and be teased at. So, I get there and do my paparazzi gig and stare, dumb-founded, at all the shipwreck material in the lab.
Jaco Boshoff


Getting into the proposal writing zone

Jaco is the curator of Maritime and Historical Archaeology. This morning I found both him and Jake (maritime archaeology intern) in the wet lab calibrating the ph reader, so they can start using it on a series shipwreck material that dots the lab and the balcony. Once that’s out of the way, it’s back to serious curator business…making the hardworking interns some delicious coffee =). Hie, hie, jokes aside, Jaco gets settled in working on publications and research monies to keep myself and Jake coming back for more work experience and most importantly the awesome diving adventures that are in the works. Leaving Jaco to get on with his day, I turn my attention to Jake.

Jake Harding


The “not sure if Jaco is talking to me or himself again” look.

Jake is the maritime archaeology intern on the same funding programme I’m on (DST-NRF). Now Jake, just like Jaco, is crazy about all things maritime archaeology related, aka shipwrecks. He’s day starts out with checking on the many shipwreck artefacts that are in the lab. Documenting and treating numerous cannon balls and strange iron pieces, as well as your occasional knocking off concretion with a chisel and hammer is all a part of Jake’s day. I haven’t a clue what’s going on with all these artefacts, and Jake is just going on about each iron piece in solution and how they all fit together or not, with this pure, unadulterated excitement. I wonder if I get that way when talking about skeletons.

I had a video recording (or at least I thought it was) of Jake taking me through his day and the artefacts, but because technology is way higher grade for me, I can’t find the video on the camera. =(

One cup of coffee later, I’m making my way once more to the South African museum or ISAM as it is known among the inner circles of Iziko.

So, I’m sat in my office after a quick run upstairs to the printers again and I hope to finally sit down and type out the pathology report I put together a week ago. An email pops in and it’s from the University of York’s alumni about taking part in their “where are you and how you doing” survey. I can foresee this is going to take me a while, so I’ll put it off for Monday. Wilhelmina pops in and we sit down and go through her day.

Wilhelmina (Wil) Seconna


Now where would that Khoe pot be?

Wil is the Assistant Collections Manager…actually she’s the best Collections Manager ever! She makes sure that all the operations going on in the department run smoothly and that everybody is happy. It seems that we have similar morning routine going on here. Wil’s morning begins with going through a mass amount of emails and research requests for access to the archaeology collections. All the SAHRA permits applications and all things admin were taken care of with a quick session at the computer, and Wil just make’s it look so easy. A quick run to the printers is followed by a mini adventure in search of a Khoe pot for the Land Act exhibition coming up soon
Naturally, when you have a department filled with girls, you can expect there to be shopping talk involved at some point in the day. Today, Wil & Erica kidnapped Pascal and went out shopping…for safety gear quotes. Overalls, boots, gloves and hard hats aren’t exactly what us girls want to be shopping for, but hey, we’ll take it. Why are we buying safety gear? The museum is currently going through a major revamp and so there’s construction being done in the building…as you would have it, the archaeology collection is required to move. So yes, we need heavy duty outfits that can be worn while we methodologically relocated the storeroom which houses over 100 (at least) sites in and around the Cape. Shopping trip over it’s time to get the shelving out from the storeroom and into the main lab, and Erica takes charge.


Erica Bartnick

SA_WCP_Cape Town_ISAM_Level 3 Store_Sutherland Material_Feb 2012

“Kenni, stop with the paparazzi-ness”

Erica is the Collections Assistant working on the Physical Anthropology collection.
Her day today went along these lines: first task was to photograph the de-installation process of the casts made by former taxidermist, John Drury, in the Ethno Hall. It’s been decided that the casts of the human figures are to be removed and replaced with wire figurines; it’s all very futuristic and arty looking. Then there was the shopping trip followed by admin work regarding the Physical Anthropology collection. New labels for the skeleton boxes were prepared as well as a mapping system for the new layout of the collection. As already mentioned before, the archaeology storeroom is being shifted around and so today’s main activities were centered the moving of the shelving and ensuring that the next site collection (Klasies River Mouth) to be moved is all prepped and ready to go.



The manpower behind moving the shelving and super heavy boxes containing Stone Age material are our resident packers!! Sam, Angus, Pascal and Manzi
These guys do all the heavy lifting so that pretty girls such Wil, Erica and (depending if it’s a bad hair day or not) myself don’t have to.


And that’s a wrap folks, off to the pub I go!!

Ok, it’s the end of the work day and I need to head off to a farewell gig for one of my SAHRA mates and dive buddy. She’s heading out to the USA for some warm-water-diving adventures. Goodbyes always suck, but it’s the one time in what has felt like forever since I hung out with the SAHRA (South African Heritage Resources Agency)Underwater Unit, it’ll be great…they’re great! Here’s a short piece and video link to what my awesome Maritime Archaeology mates do =).

Sophie Winton


Can I get in the water now?

When I sat down to write something for Day of Archaeology, my mind went blank! As a maritime archaeologist in South Africa, there are just too many wonderful things that I want to share about the world below the waves.

So instead of writing a 20 page essay, I thought I would let this video sum it up for me. This was filmed during SAHRA’s Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Field School in 2012, hosted in Cape Town. Table Bay was a toasty 10 degrees Celsius and we were doing NAS training with some wonderful students from South Africa, the Netherlands, Swaziland and Canada.

If you would like to find out more maritime archaeology in South Africa, visit


Susan Hamilton (RCAHMS) – Dundee

Susan Hamilton, RCAHMS

Susan Hamilton, RCAHMS

Dundee ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Dundee ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Spotting Dundee

My very first role at RCAHMS, back in 2000, was a short-term contract in the Collections team.  It was a wonderful job for a brand new archaeology graduate, as I got to know the Commission’s collections; not just the archaeological archives and photographs that I was already vaguely familiar with, but also the huge range of architectural material, and the massive aerial photographic collections.

Working with aerial photography took up much of my time in my first few months. RCAHMS holds a lot of early aerial photography, including surveys of Scotland undertaken in the years following the Second World War, when RAF pilots who had been undertaking overseas reconnaissance missions took part in Operation Revue. This provided detailed domestic photographic coverage for use by the Ordnance Survey in mapping, and also helped guide post-war reconstruction.

Hilltown, Dundee, showing the distinctive rectangles of the football stadia towards the top right. 10 April 1946.

Hilltown, Dundee, showing the distinctive rectangles of the football stadia towards the top right. 10 April 1946. Copyright RCAHMS (NCAP Reference: 006-001-000-141-R)

This early aerial photography is of great use to archaeologists today as it pre-dates the large-scale plantings of the Forestry Commission, thus providing some of the only evidence of archaeological sites subsequently shrouded in tree cover.

Amongst other Collections Assistant tasks, one of my duties was to check through what must have amounted to miles of photographic negatives – the products of Operation Revue. In particular, I was looking for signs that cellulose nitrate film had been used.

Used until the 1950s for aerial photography, cellulose nitrate film can degrade over time and become volatile, releasing poisonous gases and catching fire easily.  The temperatures at which this can happen are relatively low – around 38 degrees centigrade, and although all the RCAHMS film canisters were stored in a secure, temperature-controlled store, it was very important to carry out a thorough check for this type of stock.

In the first round of checking, it was enough to open the tins one by one, and check for indications of cellulose nitrate film. A small number were found – the film having reacted with the metal canister to produce a distinctive brown powder and acrid smell. They were safely disposed of, the film having decomposed too much to be useable.

Once the initial fast checks were completed, I moved onto more general condition checking. Although the fast check had demonstrated that most of the film was of less hazardous types, research had shown that different types of film were often spliced together to create larger, continuous rolls, so there may still have been some cellulose nitrate lurking in the collection.

To carry out the condition checking, I loaded the spools of film onto a hand winder, and whirred through the negatives.

This is where Dundee comes into the story.

Oblique aerial view of Dundee, 1948, with original cropmarkings Copyright RCAHMS (NCAP Reference: 006-001-026-209-R)

Oblique aerial view of Dundee, 1948, with original cropmarkings Copyright RCAHMS (NCAP Reference: 006-001-026-209-R)

There were a lot of films to check, so I couldn’t spend a long time looking at images – although it was tempting.  It was difficult to make out much detail at first, as the risk to cellulose nitrate from any form of heat meant that the films couldn’t be viewed on a light box.  As an Edinburgh native, I could occasionally make out the regular streets of the New Town, but other than that I was surprised and frustrated at how little I could identify.  However, as I began to get my ‘eye in’ I quickly noticed how certain features stood out, especially in smoke-filled, uniformly-arranged urban areas. As a football fan, my eye was often drawn to football pitches with their distinctive markings and I realised that the only city I could quickly identify as I was whirring across it was Dundee – because the two football clubs in that city have their stadia across the street from one another!  ‘Spotting Dundee’ became a game I played whenever the task became a little tedious, and I also began to regularly recognise the sinuous paths up Dundee Law.

image of oblique aerial view centred on the S part of the prefab estate, taken from the NE. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1111732)

image of oblique aerial view centred on the S part of the prefab estate, taken from the NE. Copyright RCAHMS (SC1111732)

Once I recognised Dundee, I could also make out some of the nearby coastal towns in Angus, and this led to my best discovery – an incredible moment-in-time shot of prefabricated housing being delivered and constructed in Arbroath.  The image seems to have been taken from a much lower height than others – I like to think the pilot was going in for a closer look! Since that first contract, I’ve been lucky enough to have a range of posts at RCAHMS, but I will always have great memories of that first job and introduction to aerial photography.

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.




Museological Multi-tasking on a Rainy Day at Iziko South African Museum’s Archaeology Unit

Iziko South African Museum with Table Mountain in the background (trust us, it is behind the cloud!)

Situated in the historical VOC Company’s Garden with the iconic Table Mountain in the background (except for today, with low cloud and rain providing a ‘blanket’ for the mountain), Iziko South African Museum ( the country’s oldest – established in 1825 – with the region’s largest archaeological collection. The Iziko museum complex comprises a dozen or so sites with South African Museum the primary site. Administratively divided in ‘natural,’ ‘social’ and ‘art’ history, Archaeology provides a vital bridge between these divisions. Trouble is, the quantity and range of work is vast and staff few (who hasn’t heard that before?). So here is an introduction to our work via those who work here; with their job title and what they are working on today (or yesterday). And you are all very welcome to visit and conduct research on the collection – or just see the displays.

Erica Bartnick: Collections Assistant: Human Remains and Rock Art

Erica Bartnick photographing a !Kibi or bored-through stone used as a digging stick weight

I am a Collections Assistant in the Physical Anthropology Collection. I am a dedicated, committed and motivated person, always striving to better myself in all aspects of my life. When I was offered this position of working with the Physical Anthropology Collection, I felt extremely honoured. I work with the deepest respect and discipline because I see myself working with people and not specimens as they were considered to be in the past. I feel very fortunate to have this job of being a part of the repatriation and restitution of all the human remains in our collection. I am very passionate about my work and would like this to be my chosen career path. I am not, in fact, here today – I am on leave – but this is what I did yesterday (and on the days before that):

Yesterday started by collecting boxes of human remains from the restricted access section of the storeroom and transferring them to the study area. I checked for potential indicators of unethical collection which means the presence of hair, tissue, personal information relating to the individual such as a name, and/or large number of individuals from the same site. I didn’t find any such indicators, so I didn’t have to call Sven, the Curator and he didn’t have to add to his repatriation list. Thereafter I re-assemble the individual in order for me to establish the possibility of how many individuals might be present in one single box. I then photographed the remains starting with skull (cranial) and then moving on to the post-cranial remains (that is the remainder of the skeletal body). After I have photographed the bones they are carefully packed in acid-free paper. I print a label for each box with all the information found and paste it on the box. At the end of each day, the final step is to capture all the information on my database which I have created.

Thank you

Wilhelmina Seconna: Assistant Collections Manager: Accessioning Historic Cape Town Artefacts and returning display items to store

Wilhelmina Seconna in the main store at the education table

I am an Assistant Collections Manager in the Archaeology Unit which consists of a team of six individuals. Together with the Curator, my main function is to see that operations run smoothly. A typical work day in my life is never the same; however, I try to maintain a disciplined and systematic schedule to my days, with Mondays being administrative days when I see to leave queries, registers, post, and emails. Fridays – like today are spent doing intense cleaning and maintenance of our collections stores and exhibitions. My job also requires that I work closely with researchers, assisting them with queries; such as where their material is situated within a space containing over 10 000 boxes. This month we have two long-term researchers in our Unit (this can rise to more than a dozen).

For Archaeology Day, I am busy returning artefacts that were on the Made in Translation exhibition of historic rock art copies; to their proper places. Yesterday we received two boxes of artefacts from 18th and 19th century Cape Town from a CRM project and Fosche, Sven and I will this afternoon discuss how best to accession these items. In-between these two tasks is the usual running around printing (printer not working again today!), emails and so on.

Before working here, my idea of Archaeology resembled something out of the movies such as Indiana Jones and his quest for discovering lost relics…often made out of gold! Was I in for a surprise when I was introduced to my first “relic” and it was made entirely out of stone; literally, thousands of them, each having their own story to tell. Well, I have come to develop a new-found respect and love for these stones as I am now able to relay their “stories” to others. This, for me is key to being a good collections manager; it’s not just about maintaining good housekeeping standards but also about finding out every “relics” story, making them come “alive” and passing their story on to others, thereby ensuring that they will be cared for appropriately, long after our generation is gone.

The happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they make the most of everything that comes along their way.

Fosche Munzhedzi: Department of Science & Technology Intern: Khoekhoe pottery, store mapping

Fosche Muzhedzi preparing record photographs of Khoekhoe lugged pot

I am a Limpopo Province-born (South Africa) young man who matriculated in 2005 at Tshiwangamatembele Secondary School, near Thohoyandou. I obtained a Bachelor of Heritage and Cultural Studies degree in 2009 through University of Pretoria, majoring in Archaeology and Heritage & Cultural Tourism. With the aid of Department of Arts & Culture, Heritage Bursary Programme I enrolled for BA: Archaeology (Hons) at the University of Venda in 2011, expecting to finish late 2012. In early 2012, I was selected for the DST-NRF 2012/13 Internship Programme in archaeology under mentorship of Dr. Sven Ouzman and Wilhelmina Seconna of Iziko South African Museum. Since the Pre-colonial archaeology collection is yet to move pending a major building expansion my main duties today (and most days this month) are:

(a) mapping the archaeology store rooms. I make sketch maps of the store rooms. The idea is to enable us to know where exactly to find particular box of material in the store rooms, and also to group them together according to their provenance rather than just alphabetically by site name. That will also help us to locate some collections that were placed randomly not considering confusion and delays in times of research purpose.
(b) I am also working with pottery (Khoekhoe pots). Basically what I do here is describing, photographing, cataloguing and repacking the pots. This is good and it makes things easier for researchers who want to access and study the pots.

I am also entitled to work with rock art recordings in our collection stores whereby all rock art copies and tracings will be recorded in a database system.

Sven Ouzman (the one on the right)

Sven Ouzman: Curator: Funding proposal, an irate octogenarian and Historic Cape Town artefacts

This morning I drove to work in the early morning rain. I try get to work early to get a chunk of work done but today the weather made me make a cup of tea and contemplate the day ahead. So far, three teas later and multiple gazings upon the stormy weather outside, I have worked up another draft at a funding proposal to digitally enhance the ~300 pieces of rock art in the collection, subject them to XRF to determine paint recipes and sources; to date wherever organic material occurs and then to digitally repatriate the pieces where possible. This was interrupter by a 13 minute telephone call from a concerned octogenarian who felt I should “fight for the Bushmen” (this brought on both by the decade-long closure of the (in)famous ‘Bushman diorama here and tomorrow’s state funeral for Dawid Kruiper, noted San leader). I then took a break – WAB-ing (Work Avoidance Behaviour) and checked on the rock art and ethnography galleries (they are still there, I checked). Now I am collating the day in Archaeology submission and thereafter Fosche, Wilhelmina (who is the de fact Collections manager) will go through some clay pipes, bones, ceramics etc from a CRM excavation onBree Street, uncomfortably close toPrestwich Street– of the controversial slave and labourer burial site. A person from Noordhoek has just brought in a bovid bone to identify (and by bringing it in, breaking our heritage legislation), and I am negotiating with the museum to fly flags at half mast for Dawid Kruiper’s funeral tomorrow. And Rotary want a tour for rural youth next Wednesday on the ‘origins of man’ (and presumably ‘woman’).

In absentia

Mark in the 3rd floor store

Mark de Benedictus: Collections Assistant

Mark de Benedictus has been at Iziko for over 27 years and remembers where everything is, and who has worked on what – our institutional memory machine.

Paul Isaacs: Volunteer

Paul Isaacs with rock engravings packed and ready to be moved

Paul Isaacs volunteers on Fridays on everything from erecting shelving in the cast room, exhibition maintenance, and whatever needs doing. Paul, a boilermaker, is considering a change in career and has enrolled for archaeological distance studies. Volunteering gives him the hands-on aspects distance education lacks.

Jaco Boshoff
Curator: Maritime Archaeology

Jaco and Mark are on leave – government rule that all leave for the last financial year must be used up by end June! But Jaco manages all the Maritime and Historic material at Iziko. The museum is an accredited repository, so material from most archaeological work in western parts of the country ends up here. AndCape Townis a great place for underwater archaeology.

Some Objects and Activities

Lithics from 2 mya-historic times

Khoekhoe lugged pot

Shell ornaments from Later Stone Age

Historic midden at Sutherland

Peers’ Cave, Cape Peninsula