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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Dimensions

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

 

Museum number

Oc1908.0423.1

EOC12572

Location

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Related products

Book

A History of the World in 100 objects

 
By Neil MacGregor

Accompanies the BBC Radio 4 series




This object features in A History of the World in 100 objects


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