This paper discusses the significance of artifacts as sources and evidence within the study of transcultural biography. More specifically, we focus on a group of objects of Bornean pro-venance donated to the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich a few years ago: In the spring of 2007 the descendants of Wolfgang and Erika Leupold presented us with a roomful of artifacts brought back by their parents from Indonesia. Leupold, a Swiss geologist, had spent six years in Northeastern Borneo, from 1921 to 1927, in the service of the Dutch colonial government.
In planning an exhibition of this donation, we at first approached the individual objects museologically, meaning that we catalogued them following categories of ethnicity, skills, function, and cultural significance. However, over time, an additional perspective presented itself. It became clear that what had appeared to be a rather heterogeneous collection achieved a very specific unity and thus meaning, if we considered the artifacts as pieces of “contact zones”. Each object could be read as a biographical document of the lives of Leupold and his wife, thus considerably adding to our understanding of the manifold aspects of the family’s time in the colonies, their contacts with local peoples, as well as his geological explorations of the terrain. The contribution explores methodological aspects of this object-based biographical approach.