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Carved wooden hand


Length: 31.000 cm
Width: 10.000 cm
Depth: 3.500 cm

Collected on the Second Voyage of Captain James Cook (1772-75)
Gift of J.R. Reinhold


Enlightenment: Trade-Discovery

    Carved wooden hand

    From Easter Island (Rapa Nui), Polynesia
    Before AD 1775

    Captain Cook visited Easter Island on his second voyage in 1774. His ship, Resolution, was in the area for only five days. His crew included the father and son naturalists Johann Reinhold and Johann Georg Forster. This carving was collected by a Tahitian called Mahine, who was acting as interpreter for the crew. He gave it to Johann Reinhold Forster, who subsequently presented it to the British Museum.

    The carving represents a woman's left hand, and George Forster comments in his account of the voyage of Resolution that '... its fingers were all bent upwards, as they are in the action of dancing ... and its nails were represented very long, extending at least three fourths of an inch beyond the finger's end'.

    More recently it had been suggested that the hand may have been used by a priest or priestess in healing or sorcery.

    J.A. Van Tilburg, Easter Island: archaeology, ec (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)

    A.L. Kaeppler, Artificial Curiosities: being (Honolulu, Bernice P. Bishop Museum, 1978)

    J.G.H. Forster, A voyage round the world in Hi (London, White, Robson, Elmsly and Robinson, 1777)


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    On display: Enlightenment: Trade-Discovery

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