Bird Figure, 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 (1996.373.2)
Stone bird figures are enigmatic remnants of a vanished culture or cultures that once flourished on the island of New Guinea, predominantly in the mountainous highlands of the interior. This unknown culture or cultures created a diversity of stone objects, including figures of birds and other animals. 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 considerable antiquity.
While their original significance is unknown, unusual stones, whether ancient artifacts or natural objects such as fossils, play, or played, important roles in the religious life of many contemporary Highland peoples. Unearthed by chance, they are believed to be supernaturally powerful objects and are employed in a variety of ceremonial contexts, including fertility rites, curing sickness, warfare, and malevolent magic. On occasion, large groups of stones were formerly brought together for a ceremonial cycle, known as amb kor or kor nganap, devoted to a female spirit who renewed the fertility of the earth and brought vitality and prosperity to the community.