Possessing Natural Worlds: Life and Death in Biocultural Collections

Danielle L. Gilbert

Publicatiedatum: 27 januari 2022

The second voyage of the HMS Beagle (1831-1836) offers an illuminating case study for contextualising the British Empire’s efforts to secure access and sanction control over natural and cultural resources located in distant regions of the globe. Attempts to obtain this power took the form of extractive collecting, activities which allowed colonial administrators and scientists to dictate ownership over the existence and mortality of nature. In this article, I explore the concept of extraction as an enduring set of actions and processes by which biocultural collections were assembled and transported from the Global South to repositories in the European metropole. Broadly defined, biocultural collections may be ‘ethnobiological specimens, artefacts and documents – plant, animal and cultural – that represent dynamic relationships among peoples, biota, and environments’. [1] Examples from the Beagle expedition include fossils, botanical specimens, surveying maps, artistic portraits, field journals, weapons, animal skins, geological samples, etc. Preserved in the collections of museums and archives, these artefacts reveal a Western positionality, a ‘biopolitics’ of extraction, which is built upon a situated, partial knowledge that portrays the extractive collecting of life as scientific objectivity. Consequently, the violent history of the possession of natural worlds and the loss experienced by the living communities of the Americas and Pacific remains obscured.

Via an examination of a positionality based upon a biopolitics of extractive collecting, I shall discuss the means and methods employed to accumulate and justify the extensive removal of biocultural resources under empire. Beginning with a brief overview of Michel Foucault’s philosophy of ‘biopower,’ I outline how colonial extraction, manifested in the various forms used to collect and export biocultural artefacts, may correspond with Foucault’s interpretations of power and knowledge. Next, I draw upon a particularly impactful example, a bolas stone acquired by Charles Darwin during the Beagle voyage, to consider how fieldwork merged anthropology and natural science to theorise natural and cultural landscapes together. Finally, I shall consider the possibility that a form of ‘salvage ecology’ emerged alongside nineteenth-century salvage anthropology to rationalise, via extinction narratives, colonialist extractive policies. Displayed as neutral scientific objects, natural history collections evince a paradoxical ‘living death,’ the continuation of a legacy of power over life; yet they also await the meaning to be found in surrendering these remnants of imperial control.

Foucault described power as ‘the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society’. [2] As mentioned earlier, the positionality that actualises a biopolitics of extraction relies upon a situated knowledge, or a framing of the world according to a certain hierarchical, usually ideologically imbued, structure. The conditions of this situation, as Foucault highlights, are strategic. Although officially a surveying mission to clarify chart measurements and establish navigation routes around South America’s coasts, from the outset, the Beagle expedition was largely envisioned as a scientific opportunity. Francis Beaufort (1774-1857), Hydrographer to the Navy and the officer responsible for setting the aims and instructions for the voyage, described the expedition as one ‘devoted to the noblest purpose, the acquisition of knowledge.’ [3] Viewed as a tactical advantage, the expedition not only offered information on safe passages for imperial ships, but also provided a knowledge of local conditions, which could be used to exercise command over resources in the area. Foucault’s characterisation of ‘biopower’ is especially pertinent to an analysis of colonial biocultural collections because it has the epistemological flexibility to contextualise the various types of extractive power.

In the Foucauldian sense, ‘biopower is a power over bios or life, and lives may be managed on both an individual and a group basis’. [4] Thus, different – albeit interconnected – types of ‘biopower,’ can be operated by the colonial subject, and at varying degrees. More specifically, Foucault defined ‘disciplinary power’ as a form of ‘biopower [that] targets the individual body (…) while another level of biopower targets the species-body.’ [5] To this additional ‘level,’ Foucault attributed a ‘series of interventions and regulatory controls,’ which he referred to as ‘a bio-politics of the population.’ [6] With the Beagle as an example, I demonstrate that colonial collecting enacted both kinds of biopower to varied extents, mapping extraction onto at least two sets of activities, across two primary locations, and utilising two key methodologies. First, the biopower that focuses its influence on the individual speaks to the small-scale acquisition of the discrete specimen at the field site. This type of extraction is prospecting – the identification, capturing, and dissection of a singular entity via weaponry and field instruments. Secondly, the biopolitics that administers the group applies to the large-scale removal and preparation of accumulated individual samples for the destination of the museum. Facilitated by institutional systems and narratives, extraction is performed in the aggregated display of these artefacts, made possible by the collector’s inventories used to document and process knowledge. As with Foucault’s formations, these two manifestations of extraction are intertwined under the colonial project, a relationship made visible from the outset.

From previous naval experience, the Captain of the Beagle, Robert FitzRoy (1805-1865), was already familiar with government-sanctioned acquisition policies: ‘We are ordered to collect everything – animals – insects – flowers – fish – anything and everything we can find.’ [7] Individual types of artefacts are named, but ‘everything’ is the aim of the command – an authorisation of interventionist practice, or a biopolitics of extraction imposed in the field, but systematically organised for the metropole. As further incentive, FitzRoy was personally invested in natural history, a man of science interested in collecting natural specimens [8] and recording detailed information about Indigenous [9] peoples, [10] as well as maritime phenomena. Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) appointment as naturalist to the Beagle was made possible by this shared colonial vision, a holistic treatment of expeditions of ‘discovery’ as profitable ventures. Beaufort, aware that valuable resources could be systematically acquired by enlisting naval crews, asked his associate George Peacock (1791-1858) for help referring a naturalist suitable for the expedition. Peacock wrote to his colleague and Darwin’s mentor, Professor John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861), unequivocally outlining the potential rewards of the project: ‘What a glorious opportunity this would be for forming collections for our museums: do write to me immediately & take care that the opportunity is not lost.’ [11] Significantly, Peacock’s letter reveals in sharp focus the rhetoric of an extractive biopolitics which perceived loss in the absence of acquisitional activities.

Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of HMS Adventure and Beagle. Volume I Frontispiece. (Biodiversity Heritage Library)

'Patagonians.' Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of HMS Adventure and Beagle. Volume II Plate. (Biodiversity Heritage Library).

Colonial naval expeditions enabled the possession of life via fieldwork excursions which compelled collectors to adapt techniques assembled prior to embarkation from Europe to the contingencies of the field. Motivated by the chance to collect data, crew members used observations and materials taken from field sites to expound new scientific theories and establish professional credibility. Tools were specifically selected to facilitate interventions made to living ecosystems, to advance knowledge and establish control over diverse biocultural worlds. Under the premise of ‘objective’ scientific research, weapons were used to capture, dissect, and analyse species, sometimes whilst still alive. [12] Further, to proffer these specimens viable for future study and display within European contexts, collectors actively sought to preserve captured beings as they were at the time of their death. In seeking to retain life in situ, collectors attempted to arrest life at the moment of capture or dissection, prioritising a specific fixed state within the being’s life cycle. This prohibition of nature’s organic decay – the wish to obtain, control, and conserve life – was continued within museum spaces where species were treated and displayed as if still living.

Exerts from Lee's Taxidermy, 1820. (Biodiversity Heritage Library)

By the first half of the nineteenth century, treatises were published offering informative collecting guides [13] and naturalists could receive university educations or professional training for properly collecting, identifying, documenting, and preparing field samples for shipment. However, despite these efforts to systematically formalise natural history practice, fieldwork was still susceptible to individual collectors’ personal preferences and the limitations imposed by capricious expeditionary conditions. Reliant upon the efforts of naturalists who could prospect resources abroad to fill research repositories in Europe’s cities, manuals specifically addressed instructions for travellers, stressing the importance of correctly parcelling objects. For instance, supplementing a set of general directions for ‘collectors, superintendents of museums, and artists,’ Sarah Bowdich Lee’s treatise Taxidermy (1820) contains a section entitled, ‘Additional Instructions for Travellers,’ which provides details on four areas specific to travelling collectors, namely:

1st, The manner of collecting and preparing objects of natural history. 2dly, The method of packing them, and enabling them to arrive at their place of destination in the best state possible. 3dly, The nature of the notes which ought to accompany these objects. 4thly, An indication of the objects which are most particularly desired. [14]

The series of activities, or extractive events, these stages represent show how the field site became a transitional space, transforming an individual acquisition incident, via packaging and documentation procedures, into substantial exportation processes. Pivotally, the Beagle voyage demonstrates how this operation was a biocultural affair under colonialism, converging a multiplicity of natural and cultural material. For although recognised for pursuing British interests in hydrography and natural history, the fieldwork conducted by the Beagle crew was also profoundly anthropological. Employing the same methods to observe, record, and collect natural alongside cultural phenomena, non-human and human environments were visualised comprehensively, often to the point of conflating Indigenous culture with nature. Appropriating local methodologies observed in the field, European scientists collected Indigenous material culture that could be used to assist their extractive practices. Darwin, for instance, observed how bolas stones were utilised in South America to hunt and capture, eventually acquiring and implementing this tool into his own practice.

Bolas stones were of such interest that Darwin describes them in considerable detail – and in a manner resembling his accounts of biological specimens – ‘The bolas, or balls, are of two kinds: the simplest, which is chiefly used for catching ostriches, consists of two round stones, covered with leather, and united by a thin plaited thong, about eight feet long. The other kind differs only, in having three balls united by the thongs to a common centre.’ [15] A testament to colonial interest in ‘foreign’ tools and weaponry, an example was collected by Darwin and brought to England where it now resides at his home, the leather preserved intact, and although cut, the plaited cord still attached. [16] However, unlike the context he affords to specimens, Darwin offers considerable ethnographic information, highlighting the social relations mediated between various human and non-human entities via the bolas.

Arriving in South America after the easing of imperial Spanish rule in Latin America, the Beagle was immersed within a tumultuous post-Independence landscape, marked by volatile transitions in power between competing groups. At the time Darwin began his fieldwork, the bolas, an artefact used by Indigenous communities [17] throughout the Americas, had already been co-opted, especially by Gauchos. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, these groups of travelling horsemen, of mixed Indigenous and European settler-colonial heritage, emerged in the south-eastern Pampas region of South America. Darwin worked closely with the Gauchos, who living off the land tracking livestock and other wild animals for sustenance, were intimately familiar with local terrain and the habits of specimens the naturalist wished to collect. [18] Indeed, Darwin provides an amusing anecdote in his Narrative about his attempts to use the bolas, which suggests that he may have learned the art from the Gauchos. [19] Darwin portrays at least two groups of people who significantly employ the bolas: Gauchos and Indigenous peoples. Regarding the first, Darwin mentions his enjoyment of the Gaucho lifestyle, partaking as a sportsman in their hunting efforts and admiring their aptitude with the bolas, which could be sent ‘like chain shot revolving through the air’ with ‘such force as sometimes to break the leg even of a horse’. [20] Characteristic of ethnographic description, Darwin comments upon the contexts in which Indigenous peoples make and utilise the bolas – primarily focusing on its effectiveness in battle and in securing necessities. He writes,

The bolas is a very important weapon to the Indian; for with it he catches his game and also his horse which roams free over the plain. In fighting, his first attempt is to throw the horse of his adversary with the bolas, and when entangled by the fall to kill him (…) If the balls only catch the neck or body of an animal, they are often carried away and lost. As (…) making the stones round is the labour of two days, the manufacture of the balls is a very common employment. [21]

Whilst the Gaucho lifestyle is romanticised, [22] Indigenous livelihood is reduced to survival – competitive combat and the necessity for sourcing food. This juxtaposition becomes more clearly visible as Darwin positions Indigenous groups in association with Argentine soldiers. General Juan Manuel de Rosas (1793-1877), an authoritarian military figure, who after serving as governor of Buenos Aires had been discharged to arrest control over disputed territories, was encamped with an outpost of soldiers along the Río Colorado when Darwin met him in 1833. Invited to speak with de Rosas, Darwin waits for his interview, observing a group of Indigenous families [23] who had come to purchase some articles at the ranch where he was staying. It is from this larger passage – alongside remarks on physical appearance and domestic relations – that Darwin provides an account of Indigenous use of the bolas. Yet significantly, each time Darwin references this occasion – whether in the Narrative or in personal correspondence [24] – he emphasizes the precarious relationship between Indigenous peoples and other settler groups. ‘The wandering tribes of horse Indians, which have always occupied the greater part of this country, having of late much harassed the outlying estancias, the government at Buenos Ayres equipped (…) an army under the command of General Rosas for the purpose of exterminating them.’ [25] As I suggest, Darwin’s interest in obtaining biocultural artefacts like the bolas stone, when viewed within the context of his writing, reveals a synthesized exploitation of cultural and natural life, a shared history of the violence implicit in the social and biological sciences under colonialism.

Although biocultural artefacts take many forms, the bolas stone perhaps most neatly fits into the characterisation defined by Salick et al. as ‘any object made from plant and/or animal material, and especially those with a specific cultural connotation or use.’ [26] At the intersection of ethnographic object and biological medium, the bolas highlights the ways in which human and non-human relations overlap. The appropriation of the bolas in a colonial context is significant because it speaks to empire’s scientific, alongside social, investment in studying warfare, weaponry, tools, and survival. Whilst depicted as a collector or scientist, the natural historian of the nineteenth century is perceived euphemistically. However, this neutral portrait obscures the extent to which naturalists could aptly be described as hunters. A gentleman of comfortable means, Darwin had grown up accustomed to hunting for sport – a pastime that developed and found focus during his academic studies and generated considerable output during his fieldwork. When oriented on the European model, the natural historian is constructed as an ‘observer’ whose active role in forwarding extraction and participating in the creation of ‘extinction’ narratives remains unacknowledged.

Darwin’s written accounts use the diction ‘extermination’ and ‘extinction’ to describe the loss of Indigenous and animal life. Etymologically, both words emphasize purposeful erasure and the absence of life. [27] Darwin’s text conveys how the two words became interchangeable in mythologising, through popular travel narratives, the death and destruction of human and non-human life in the Global South. As a scientific observer, Darwin witnesses and theorises about this death, but does not acknowledge scientific practice as a contributor to the extractive death of species. For example, the history of the bolas, as narrated by Darwin, is connected both with the ‘extermination’ of Indigenous peoples and the ‘extinction’ or systematic destruction of pumas and other native species by Europeans and settler colonials. [28] Whilst he recognises that the large-scale hunting of the puma is a significant, unnecessary loss of life, he does not engage with the part played by imperial science and natural historians in extracting and exploiting living Indigenous environments. Perhaps this tenuous relationship between Western science’s approach to life and death is best articulated in Darwin’s ruminations on the fossil record of South America. Attributing the cause of the extinction events he observes in the fossil specimens he extracts from the earth to export to England, Darwin reflects:

We can hardly suppose these structures are only adaptations to peculiarities of climate or country; for otherwise, animals belonging to a distinct type, and introduced by man, would not succeed so admirably, even to the extermination of the aborigines. On such grounds it does not seem a necessary conclusion, that the extinction of species, more than their creation, should exclusively depend on their nature (altered by physical changes) of their country. [29]

In these words, are found the precursors to the theory of evolution by natural selection; but crucially, also alluded to is the destructive effects of settler colonialism, the irreparable damage that can occur as ‘animals belonging to a distinct type’ – an invasive non-indigenous species – ‘are introduced by man’ to the harm of native species. During his subsequent visit to Australia, Darwin directly addresses the deleterious effects of colonial power, citing social and biological determinants in equal measure.

The number of aborigines is rapidly decreasing (…) This decrease, no doubt, must be partly owing to the introduction of spirits [alcohol], to European diseases (…) and to the gradual extinction of the wild animals (…) As the difficulty with procuring food increases, so must their wandering habits; and hence the population, without any apparent deaths from famine, is repressed in a manner extremely sudden compared to what happens in civilized countries (…) Wherever the European has trod, death seems to pursue the aboriginal. We may look to the wide extent of the Americas, Polynesia, the Cape of Good Hope, and Australia, and we shall find the same result (…) The varieties of man seem to act on each other; in the same way as different species of animals – the stronger always extirpating the weaker. [30]

Here we also see the language ‘extinction,’ ‘repressed,’ and ‘extirpating’ enacted to explain the loss of ‘species of animals,’ which will in turn directly affect the loss of life amongst Indigenous peoples. An aura of inevitability pervades this ‘extinction narrative,’ such that an uncontrollable force, which Darwin attributes to the competition between ‘the varieties of man,’ will inexorably lead to asymmetrical power relations where one group – the ‘less civilized’ – will be ‘exterminated.’ Darwin’s biocultural framing of death – the susceptibility of man and animal alike to succumb to destruction by natural and/or cultural forces – is important to understanding the reinforced role anthropology and natural science share in forwarding a biopolitics of extraction.

Michael Wilcox has described ‘terminal narratives – accounts of Indian histories which explain the absence, cultural death, or disappearance of Indigenous peoples’ – through ‘disease, demographic collapse, and acculturation’ as ‘mythologies of conquest [which] have helped render Native Americans invisible’. [31] Similarly, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has argued that the myths of history, the popular narratives of empire, have failed to acknowledge the magnitude of the large-scale loss of Indigenous life from colonisation. Although ‘commonly referred to as the most extreme demographic disaster – framed as natural – in human history, it was rarely called genocide.’ [32] Thus, marginalised into a supposed state of non-existence, Indigenous populations are dispossessed of resources, which are extracted by Western powers under a biopolitics justified by a reasoning of natural, or biological causality. [33] As mentioned above, expeditionary fieldwork intermingled natural history and ethnographic observation to such a degree that cultural and natural worlds were theorised together. Indigenous peoples, equated with a ‘primitive’ nature susceptible to extinction or extermination from the increasingly pervasive influence of Western civilisation, were studied by nineteenth-century scientists and travellers who wished to record ‘dying cultural traditions.’ [34] Referred to as salvage anthropology, this practice of ‘cultural preservation’ directly extracted materials through interventionist policies. Jacob Gruber has linked the emergence of nineteenth-century salvage anthropology to naturalists’ initial realisation that the colonial system’s interventions, seen as ‘the necessary advance of civilization,’ posed considerable risks to the natural world. ‘The reaction to this threat was an increased effort toward collection in order to preserve in some fashion – in zoological gardens or natural history museums – those permanent records of nature that civilization (…) in its inevitable progress would surely destroy.’ [35] In other words, the threat of decay became so prolific that the possibility that both social and biological settings could be ravaged by extinction spurred efforts to extract endangered resources. I suggest that this type of collecting – the seemingly ‘conservationist’ collecting of ‘threatened’ biocultural environments – which I refer to as salvage ecology, is just one manifestation of extractive collecting practices. Botanical, fossil, and ethnographic collections alike may illustrate how colonial salvage ecology operated collectively to contribute to the death and destruction of living ecosystems’ diverse social and natural relationships.

Throughout this paper, I have attempted to trace the different ways natural history collecting bore a complex, paradoxical relationship towards life and death. When encountering living specimens, the collector became implicated in their death, and when obtaining already deceased samples, the scientist contemplated their life. Further, the acts of acquiring and preparing specimens for removal to Europe involved capturing and killing entities in a manner that would facilitate preservation for future study, but would also make it possible to display natural history objects with a lively countenance. [36] Finally, in witnessing the destruction of species, the naturalist grappled with the distinct likelihood of extensive death, prophesied at extinction levels. Articulated as acts of preservation or conservation, natural historians engaged in salvage ecology, endeavouring to acquire a multitude of material that could be used to demonstrate and archive the historical diversity of life that was emerging alongside an understanding of earth’s ‘deep time.’ [37] However, inherent within this collecting policy was a conflicting approach towards how much natural historians should transport from the field. In the final chapter of his volume of the Narrative, Darwin reflects upon his experiences, offering ‘a few pieces of advice’ for those who would ‘undertake a similar expedition.’ [38] These sections provide insight into collectors’ strategies for effectively administering the extraction of life, transitioning the action from the field to a new positioning in the museum. [39] The young scientist counsels, ‘with room and means at command, let the collector place no limit to the number of his glass jars,’ whilst concluding with a contradictory sense of economy: ‘For he should constantly bear in mind (…) “It is better to send home a few things well preserved, than a multitude in a bad condition”.’ [40] In her Taxidermy guide, Sarah Bowdich Lee laments specimens which arrive ‘in such a state of decay, that it is impossible for us to take advantage of them (…) however, when (…) interesting for science, or (…) wanting in our collections, it would be mortifying to lose them.’ [41] As seen with Peacock’s letter and repeated here, the loss for the collector is not the loss of life, nor is it needlessly depriving an ecosystem or local community of its constituent life; but rather, the loss of the opportunity to study, to advance scientific knowledge, or to amass a complete display for the benefit of the metropole.

Whilst phrased as preservation – a proactive salvaging of nature and culture at risk – the coloniality of natural history collecting prioritised activities that would expressly benefit Europe’s museums and research institutions. The implication that it is preferable to transmit fewer, more effectively conserved materials did not stop collectors, including Darwin, from exporting samples in the multiple thousands. Additionally, as Darwin’s letters and the published collecting guides make clear, in the nineteenth century, the art of safely transporting materials involved no inconsequential amount of trial, error, and loss. But, perhaps most importantly, the examples above reveal the value placed on materials that exemplified the ability of European collectors to forestall death and decay – a very particular kind of biopower. In discussing Foucault’s definition of biopower, Elaine Feder notes that ‘pouvoir must be understood (…) as both ‘power’ as English speakers generally take it (which could also be rendered as puissance or force in French), but also as a kind of potentiality, capability or capacity.’ [42] I would suggest that museum collections not only represent force in the sense of European control over obtaining and producing knowledge from biocultural resources, but also in the perceived potential or capacity for arresting death, for preserving life in situ. Museum collections have institutionalised this ability, with taxonomic mounts, taxidermy displays, specimen jars, fossil casts, and ethnographic artefacts presented in a decontextualised, perpetually preserved neutrality that belies the history of their acquisition. Captured in life, but displayed in death, these specimens of science are ‘reanimated’ in displays, the marks of dissection, the indications of the coloniality of violent possession, hidden from the viewer. It is time to relinquish this power by fully acknowledging the consequences of attempting to authorise ownership over the existence and mortality of nature, especially life extracted and displayed as science’s triumph.


[1] Jan Salick, Katie Koncher and Mark Nesbitt eds., Curating Biocultural Collections: A Handbook (Richmond 2014) 1. [2] Ellen K. Feder, ‘Power/Knowledge,’ in Dianna Taylor ed. Michel Foucault: Key Concepts (London 2014) 59; Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, v. 1, trans. Robert Hurley (New York 1990) 93. [3] United Kingdom Hydrographic Office Archives, Minute Book 2, 23. [4] Chloë Taylor, ‘Biopower,’ in Dianna Taylor ed., Michel Foucault: Key Concepts (London 2014) 44. [5] Ibidem, 45. [6] Ibidem; Foucault, The History, 139. [7] Cambridge University Library MS. Add. 8853/38. [8] The Ornithological Group at the Natural History Museum, London has conducted research on FitzRoy’s collection of specimens from the Beagle (Personal communication; Zoë Varley, HMS Beagle Ornithology Collections Enquiry). [9] The Beagle crew did not always recognise the diversity of peoples in the Americas and Pacific. Thus, a lack of clarity and accuracy, especially in relation to individual or group identity, pervades historical accounts of the voyage. Throughout this article, I will most often use the term ‘Indigenous’ to describe the unknown persons with whom the Beagle crew interacted. [10] FitzRoy’s accounts and correspondence include descriptions of different Indigenous groups according to physiological appearance, including the four individuals he took from Tierra del Fuego in 1830 and brought to England. Yokcushlu (‘Fuegia Basket’), Elleparu (‘York Minster’), and ‘Boat Memory’ (Indigenous name unknown) were Qawasqar (Alacaluf) and Orundellico (‘Jemmy Button’) was Yámana (Yahgan). See FitzRoy’s account in Robert FitzRoy, Charles Darwin, and Philip Parker King, Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty’s Ships Adventure and Beagle Between the Years 1826 and 1836, Describing their Examination of the Southern Shores of South America and the Beagle's Circumnavigation of the Globe, v. II (London 1839) 142-149. [11] Darwin Correspondence Project LETT-104. [12] Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity (New York 2010). [13] For example, Sarah Bowdich Lee, Taxidermy: or, The art of Collecting, Preparing, and Mounting Objects of Natural History. For the Use of Museums and Travellers (London 1820); George Graves, The Naturalist’s Companion: Being a Brief Introduction to the Different Branches of Natural History, with Approved Methods for Collecting and Preserving the Various Productions of Nature (London 1824). [14] Lee, Taxidermy, 119-120. [15] See Darwin in FitzRoy, Darwin, and King, Narrative, v. III, 50. [16] Bolas Stone. Lead ball, leather bag. Down House: English Heritage. Accession number 88202361. [17] Most notably, the Tehuelche of Patagonia, but as noted above, Indigenous communities throughout North and South America used the bolas prior to and after colonialism. See the National Museum of the American Indian for comparative examples: https://americanindian.si.edu/collections-search/search?edan_q=bolas. [18] Darwin Correspondence Project LETT-188; Darwin Correspondence Project LETT-229. [19] FitzRoy, Darwin, and King, Narrative, v. III, 51: ‘The main difficulty in using [the] bolas, is to ride so well, as to be able at full speed, and while suddenly turning about, to whirl them so steadily round the head, as to take aim (…) One day, as I was (…) galloping and whirling the balls round my head, by accident the free one struck a bush; and its revolving motion being thus destroyed, it immediately fell to the ground, and like magic caught one hind leg of my horse; the other ball was then jerked out of my hand, and the horse fairly secured (…) The Gauchos roared with laughter; they cried they had seen every sort of animal caught, but had never before seen a man caught by himself.’ [20] Ibidem, 50. [21] Ibidem, 84. [22] See footnote 18. [23] Again, Darwin fails to acknowledge specific groups amongst the Indigenous populations of Patagonia beyond a superficial recognition that General Rosas viewed some Indigenous groups as allies and some as adversaries. [24] ‘There is now carrying on a bloody war of extermination against the Indians, by which I was able to make this passage.’ Darwin Correspondence Project LETT-229. [25] Darwin in FitzRoy, Darwin, and King, Narrative, v. III, 78. [26] Salick, Konchar, and Nesbitt, Curating Biocultural Collections, 1-2. [27] See Oxford English Dictionary for the historical use of extinction: ‘the act of extinguishing, the fact or state of being extinguished (1); the action of blotting out of existence; destruction, annihilation (3a); of a family, a class of persons, a race or species of animals or plants, having no living representative (5a).’ For the etymology of extermination, see: ‘expulsion (1); to destroy utterly, put an end to (persons or animals), to root out, extirpate (species, races, populations, sects, etc.) (2).’ [28] ‘In an open country, [the puma] is first entangled with the bolas, then lazoed, and dragged along the ground till rendered insensible. At Tandeel (south of the Plata), I was told, that within three months one hundred were destroyed.’ Darwin in FitzRoy, Darwin, and King, Narrative, v. III, 328. [29] Ibidem, 212. [30] Ibidem, 520-521. [31] Michael V. Wilcox, The Pueblo Revolt and the Mythology of Conquest: An Indigenous Archaeology of Contact (Berkeley 2009) 11-13. [32] Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Boston 2014) 40. [33] Foucault, The History; Taylor ed., Michel Foucault. [34] George Stocking, Victorian Anthropology (New York 1987). [35] Jacob Gruber, ‘Ethnographic Salvage and the Shaping of Anthropology,’ American Anthropologist 72.6 (1970) 1289-1299. [36] See Lee, Taxidermy, 61, 67 for advice on mounting specimens in various ‘attitudes,’ such as ‘seizing on the prey,’ ‘flying,’ or at ‘the moment of fright.’ [37] I refer to the definition offered by Irvine: ‘the recognition of the vastness of earth’s geological history.’ Richard Irvine, ‘Deep Time: An Anthropological Problem,’ Social Anthropology 22.2 (2014) 162. [38] Darwin in FitzRoy, Darwin, and King, Narrative, v. III, 598. [39] Ibidem, 598-599: ‘Keep a list with the date of the ships by which every box of specimens, or even a letter, is transmitted to England (…) Put a number on every specimen, and every fragment of a specimen; and during the very same minute let it be entered in the catalogue (…) It is likewise convenient to have the different thousands printed on differently coloured paper, so that when unpacking, a single glance tells the approximate number.’ [40] Ibidem, 600-602. [41] Lee, Taxidermy, 77-78. [42] Feder, ‘Power/Knowledge,’ 55.

About the author

A doctoral researcher based at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, UK, Danielle Gilbert specialises in the archaeology and anthropology of the Americas. Via an environmental humanities approach, she performs collections-based research across disciplinary lines to explore the history of knowledge production and collecting in the Global South; language and comparison in anthropology; biocultural and natural history collections. PhD Candidate in Archaeology University of Oxford danielle.gilbert@arch.ox.ac.uk

Danielle L. Gilbert, ‘Possessing natural worlds. Life and death in biocultural collections’, Locus – Tijdschrift voor Cultuurwetenschappen 25 (2022). https://edu.nl/d476x

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