Things can amaze. They bring us into other worlds by allowing us to appreciate their beauty, their strangeness, their antiquity, and their power. This is a gift that itself has created new worlds: the worlds of exhibitions.
From the first, anthropology has been entangled with collections. In collecting, anthropologists collaborate with users of things. These users conspire with collectors if only in how they store their things against the ravages of time.
Living users often cement relations with anthropologists through the exchange of gifts, including rare things, such as say, a beaded necklace of turtles from Zuni.
Strange and beautiful things show us how skills are never "just" routine. Buddhist and Hindu symbols reside in a single sari
from Odisha, India. Through their textile interplay, we imagine how Buddhist and Hindu communities co-exist side by side.
A wedding souvenir—but what kind of wedding? A knickknack can draw us out of our common sense into indigenous aspirations for modern, civilized subjectivities. For the Dhanka of Rajasthan, India, weddings are a collective enterprise, unmarked by romance. They draw brides and grooms into the possibilities of aspiration itself.
And then, from Kenya, our oldest artifact: metal marks on the leg bone of a cow made almost two millennia ago. What forms of trade and communication made this early coupling of herding and metal use possible? We can only wonder, and our wonder inspires awe.