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To celebrate Vikings Live, we have replaced our Roman alphabet with the runic alphabet used by the Vikings, the Scandinavian ‘Younger Futhark’. The ‘Younger Futhark’ has only 16 letters, so we have used some of the runic letters more than once or combined two runes for one Roman letter.

For an excellent introduction to runes, we recommend Martin Findell’s book published by British Museum Press.

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  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Oblong chest cut from solid block of sandstone, with similarly cut separate lid; relief figures carved on four sides of chest; evidence of pigment in less exposed parts. Lid undecorated.

  • Culture/period

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 35 centimetres
    • Width: 73 centimetres
    • Depth: 55 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    Christy register number lost, subsequently re-registered in 1989 as Q89Am4 ("Found unregistered"). Identified as Christy +7006 by C.Bezanilla (Ethno.Dept.) following discovery of original registration Slip at 6/2001. Drawing and dimensions on Slip and in Q-Register.McEwan 2009
    The scenes carved on the four sides of this vessel depict two protagonists engaged in a formal contest over a severed head with a tasselled plume of long hair. The left-hand figure always wears a distinctive nose ornament that extends across his cheek, while the fanged jaws of his opponent emphasize his supernatural powers. Their confrontation is played out in a sequence of arm gestures which are the mirror image of each other, changing in synchronized fashion from scene to scene around the vessel, following the direction in which the severed head is facing. Subtle variations in the costume and headdress of each figure echo and elaborate upon the visual language of the arm gestures. it seems likely that the vessel held a liquid, perhaps "pulque", the fermented beverage made from the juice of the "maguey" plant, which was consumed in large quantities at festivals. It probably served as a ritual object during a series of related ceremonies, among them the ball game, celebrated at designated times of the year.


  • Bibliography

    • McEwan 1994 p. 27 (Line drawings of details) bibliographic details
    • McEwan 2009 p. 65 bibliographic details
  • Location


  • Exhibition history


    1990 20 Oct-9 Dec, Japan, Tokyo, Setagaya Art Museum, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.215
    1991 5 Jan-20 Feb, Japan, Yamaguchi, Prefectural Museum of Art, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.215
    1991 9 Mar-7 May, Japan, Osaka, National Museum of Art, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.215

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Purchased in 1879 from W.G.Jolly, Manchester, through Christy Fund.

  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • Am1989,Q.4 (also registered as [deleted])


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Object reference number: ESA33578

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