During the 1960s and 1970s, archaeologists became increasingly interested in understanding the social and communicative roles of stylistic variation in material culture. Polly Wiessner, then a U-M doctoral student, approached this question ethnographically in her 1973–1977 research among four San groups of the Kalahari Desert of Botswana. Glass bead headbands made by San women were highly prized possessions worn on special occasions. Wiessner explored design motifs, the networks of relations through which headbands were exchanged, and women’s responses to others’ headbands and their makers. The two objects shown here are part of a small collection of San beadwork that Wiessner acquired for U-M from the Botswana National Museum. Both were made by members of the !Kung San. The red and white piece is a !Kung headband, and the yellow piece is described as an example of a recent fashion trend: a beaded imitation of a white man’s neck tie.
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.