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To celebrate Vikings Live, we have replaced our Roman alphabet with the runic alphabet used by the Vikings, the Scandinavian ‘Younger Futhark’. The ‘Younger Futhark’ has only 16 letters, so we have used some of the runic letters more than once or combined two runes for one Roman letter.

For an excellent introduction to runes, we recommend Martin Findell’s book published by British Museum Press.

More information about how we have ‘runified’ this site


Burnished pots

Burnished pots

Burnished pots

Height: 30.000 cm
Height: 30.000 cm
Height: 30.000 cm

Gift of Sir H.H. Johnston and Mrs M. Trowell

AOA 1901.11-13.50, 51;AOA 1971.Af38.2

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These three burnished pots were made by the Ganda people, in what is now Uganda, in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. The pots are made in the shape of calabash bottles. After firing, the clay has been glazed with graphite and rubbed with peanut oil creating a metallic-grey surface that resembles pewter. Each pot is made to a slightly different design but all three are inspired by the shape of a gourd - with a rounded bottom and a plump, swelling body tapering to a narrow neck. They range between 21 and 34 centimetres in height.

The pots are set in a diagonal row, with the tallest pot furthest from us. Each pot stands on an ornamental pot ring - a short tapered cylinder woven from vegetable fibre, decorated with diagonal patterns in shades of brown.

The tallest pot has a body about the size of a large melon. It is decorated around the lower part of the neck with plain bands alternating with a herring bone pattern. Above this the neck swells a little before tapering in again. It resembles the funnel of an old-fashioned gas lamp.

The middle pot is a little smaller, with a long narrow neck that widens into a goblet-shape at the top.

The nearest pot is the smallest of all. Its rounded bottom could be cradled in the palm of one hand. Its neck curves right over like a pumpkin stalk and comes to a rounded point at the tip. The contents of this pot can only be accessed by a hole in the centre of the body.

Although the pots are about a hundred years old, their organic shapes make them look strikingly modern. They would have been produced for the royal court, and other important people. Pottery making is carried out in the dry season in many parts of Africa. The heat of the sun is required to dry the pots to a certain hardness before firing, otherwise cracks appear. During the rainy season people work in the fields, leaving little time for pottery. It is also considered important that pots are fired during the dry season to avoid their destruction by supernatural forces. Unusually for sub-Saharan Africa, in Uganda the royal potters are a special group of men known as the Kujona, who received land in exchange for pottery.

On display: Room 25: Africa