Protecting a 60-year investment in world-renowned replicas

KMS funds shelving for the NMK Casting Department

By Benson Kyongo
Casting Department head

The Casting Department was established in 1963 as an answer to a pressing need at the museum. The National Museums of Kenya have the finest collection in the world of hominid fossils, along with many other examples of African flora and fauna. There is a tremendous demand from researchers around the world to study these artifacts. But original fossil skulls and bones are both too valuable and too fragile to handle frequently. So the Casting Department produces precise casts—or replicas—of these fossils that can be sent to other researchers for study.

These casts are not “counterfeits,” but precise, detailed, scientifically accepted replicas.

The Casting Department is an investment by the museum, since it generates revenues from cast sales. Clients across the globe include museums, universities, individual researchers and other related institutions.

The department also provides exhibition replicas to NMK museum galleries around Kenya. Some of our recent work is included in galleries on human  evolution and large mammals in the Nairobi Museum.

In 1967, the first two Kenyan casting trainees were recruited, Mr. Simon Kasinga and Mr. Kasilu. In 1977 they were both sent to the United States for specialized technical training. After their successful completion of this training, they became internal trainers at the department.

The department is expecting new technology donated by the Japan International Cooperation Agency to assist us in the many activities we undertake.

To produce a cast, one begins by making a mold. In casting, we have a “mother mold.” Every cast produced has a mold. These molds are important because once it is made, it will be used to reproduce subsequent casts without reusing the original specimen.

All the molds are catalogued with accession and shelf numbers for easy access. Over the years, we have built many thousands of molds, prepared for important specimens for various purposes.

One of our challenges has been the safe keeping of these important productions. Dust reduces the life of a mold. With our old wooden shelving, it was very difficult to keep out the dust. The wooden shelves were constructed in the 1960s. By 2010, the wooden shelves were tired with the burden of carrying all those molds for year. Dust and wood breakage were regular visitors to the department. We feared that this would be a continuing routine.

But then in 2010, after touring the facility, the Kenya Museum Society stepped in with a grant to provide new metal shelving, protecting the nearly 60 year of investment in molds and casts that NMK has made. I cannot forget energetic KMS Chair Pat Jentz who, apart from her very busy schedule, spent a lot of time with me in the lab, taking floor measurements, marking the areas, looking for a company to do the work and getting bids. I’m very grateful for her hard work.

The project has two phases. The first is complete, and the second is now under way.

I’d also like to thank all the KMS committee officials, members, staff and other who contributed in so many ways. We are very grateful. We also had the full support and blessing of NMK Director General Dr. Idle Farah, who took time form his busy schedule to help with fundraising. We also had great support from the Directorate Director Connie Maina. On behalf of hte casting department and NMK as a whole, we are honored. Again I say, “Thanks.”

KMS, keep the spirit.