Pestle Finial in the Form of a Bird, date unknown
Mount Hagen region, Western Highlands, Papua New Guinea
Stone; H. 4 1/2 in. (11.4 cm)
Purchase, Discovery Communications Inc. Gift, 1996 (1996.373.1)
The oldest known Oceanic sculptures consist of a variety of ancient stone objects discovered in New Guinea. Found primarily in the mountainous highlands of the interior, they are enigmatic remnants of a culture or cultures that once flourished widely on the island, and include independent figures as well as mortars, pestles, club heads, and other forms. The dating of these objects remains uncertain, although organic material associated with one example has recently been carbon-dated to around 1500 B.C., indicating that some examples are of great antiquity.
This stylized bird figure once adorned the end of a stone pestle. Almost certainly used in conjunction with the prehistoric stone mortars found in the same region, such pestles may have been ritual objects, possibly used to grind pigments used for body paint or in the preparation of ceremonial meals.