Bird-shaped pestle

Papua New Guinea, about 4000-8000 years-old

This intriguing carved stone object is a pestle. The heavy round bulb at the base is designed for grinding or crushing food, while the handle has been carved in the form of an elongated bird, with a long neck curving into a stylised head.

It was found in Papua New Guinea, in the Pacific Ocean, which has one of the oldest food cultivation traditions in the world. Around 10,000 years ago, humans in this part of the world began to move away from living as roaming bands of hunter-gatherers. They learnt to grow crops, which meant new tools had to be invented, both for farming and for food storage and preparation.

In Papua New Guinea, the staple crop was taro. Taro was one of the earliest crops to be cultivated by humans, and is still grown in Papua New Guinea today. It has an edible root, as well as leaves that are eaten as a green vegetable.

The pestle’s long neck meant it was probably too delicate to be used regularly and its bird-shape suggests it may have been used for pounding food on special occasions.


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Object details

Height: 36.2 cm
Width: 15 cm
Depth: 15 cm



Room 2: Collecting the world


    See this object in our Collection database online

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    P. Bellwood, First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies (London, 2004).

    A.M.T. Moore, G.C Hillman, and A.J. Legge, Village on the Euphrates: From Foraging to Farming at Abu Hureyra (Oxford, 2000)

    S. Mithen, After the Ice. A Global Human History 20000-5000 BC (London, 2003)

    B. Smith, The Emergence of Agriculture (Washington D.C., 1995)

    R. Torrence, and P. Swadling, ‘Social Networks and the Spread of Lapita’, Antiquity, 82 (2008), 600–616