British Museum

Stop 3    

Painted log coffin Surviving death Room 24

Natasha McKinney, British Museum, introduces the coffin

In Arnhem Land, in central northern Australia, mortuary rituals ensure the safe journey of the soul after death. In the final stage, bones are placed in a hollow log coffin. This example features a depiction of Mana, an ancestral shark, and totem of the Yolngu peoples. In ancestral time, Mana was attacked by an ancestor from another clan. He angrily charged towards the land, carving out the rivers; his sharp teeth remained on the riverbanks as pandanus trees. The strength of ancestral beings can be drawn on through art, song and ceremony.