Scholars have written at length about what drives people to collect. But the truth is we don’t know why U-M engineering professor John A. Van den Broek (1885–1959) chose to collect weapons from around the world. In 1929, he sold a collection of 109 weapons—from Malaysia, Melanesia, and Africa—to the Museum. This “throwing knife” is from Zaire (formerly the Democratic Republic of the Congo). The drawing below appears to show how Professor Van den Broek displayed his collection inside his Ann Arbor house. This knife would have had a woven fiber or hide handle on the unpolished shaft at left. Throwing knives, with their multiple cutting edges, can be hurled with accuracy up to 300 meters. Their polished surfaces reflect the sun as they spin toward their target, making a low whirring noise—an experience that would terrify as well as wound. Beyond their use as weapons, throwing knives also served as symbols of elite status and were sometimes used as currency.
In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.