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Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology


20th century
North Nigeria
Z 25823

"This object is described as a horse ornament from Hausa people in northern Nigeria. The boxes attached to it contain texts and hand-written diagrams. An uncle told me that they may have been used by local itinerant religious figures called marabouts to protect and orient themselves and their animals."

Ayesha Fuentes

Where you go, I go

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Our database is full of mistakes, omissions and erasures. For me, a large part of the thrill in a collection-sized project like our stores move is the opportunity to identify and, hopefully, remediate these shortcomings. 

This object is described in our catalogue as an ornament for a horse. When I was assessing the condition of the texts attached to it, I sent an image of a hand-written Arabic language diagram to extended family in the southwestern Sahara and our uncle Sid Ahmed replied that it was likely related to local itinerant Muslim religious figures known as marabouts. He said it was meant to orient them, to help them structure their practice and teachings in time and space. Marabouts have been a part of the region's religious life for centuries, they actively resisted - though in some places facilitated - European colonisation and remain present in west Africa and abroad. I'm not sure how many of these figures would have had horses, but there are other ways in which they have interacted with animals if indeed that was the object's function.

Sid Ahmed has no formal education and a number of health problems; his world is primarily shaped through his religious practice, material knowledge and family relationships across southern Mauritania. I am so grateful he was willing to share his expertise with me and the other custodians at MAA, as well as you, the visitor. Using objects as a platform for this kind of exchange is what motivates me to work in a museum, despite its many challenges.

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Ayesha Fuentes - Isaac Newton Trust Research Associate in Conservation

Dr Ayesha Fuentes is an objects conservator and technical historian specialising in the care and handling of archaeological and anthropological collections, with research interests in Asian material religion, human remains and facilitating broad access to cultural objects. She is a graduate of the UCLA/Getty MA Program in the Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials and in 2021 completed her PhD at SOAS University of London.

At MAA as Isaac Newton Trust Research Associate in Conservation, Ayesha is working with the stores move to the Centre for Material Culture; conducting and facilitating technical and collaborative research on materials and construction; and investigating issues in the care, handling and accessibility of these collections.

More information about her skills and experiences as a fabricator, conservator and researcher - including links to publications, talks and information about current projects - can be found at

Two million years of human history. One million artefacts. Countless astonishing stories.