Museums can be theorized as sites of forgetting. Furthermore, British
traders who collected carved tusks made by Kongo-speaking peoples of the Central
African coast in the nineteenth century appear to have had no interest in accounting
for the complex narrative scenes that embellished these works. Recent scholarship
advocates applying an “archaeological sensibility” (Harrison 2013) that conceptualizes
museum collections as “assemblages” in order to reveal new knowledge about collections.
This article employs a version of this approach by applying an ichnography, or
“science of traces” (Byrne 2013), to the visual narratives carved on tusks in the World
Museum Liverpool collection and to the textual narratives of British traders’ from the
period, to reveal discrepant and elided themes in these sources. The insights generated
by probing the significance of these narrative disjunctions helps provide a “thicker”
understanding of the dynamic, cosmopolitan “zone” of cross-cultural interaction from
which the tusks were acquired.