What just happened?

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.

More information about how we have ‘runified’ this site


Collection online

Additional options
Production date to

Or search by



  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Shield, undecorated, made of bark. Bark shield of the elemong type, an elongated, oval form, with pointed ends, and slightly convex. Bark has rough surface and appears blackened in places. A thin handle is attached vertically to the reverse of the shield at centre. Both shield and handle are made of red mangrove (Rhizophora stylosa). Pierced hole near centre, with ragged edges, and smaller hole near one end.


  • Ethnic name

  • Date

    • mid 18thC (pre 1770)
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 97 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    Previously identified as the shield thought to have been obtained on Captain Cook’s first voyage (The Endeavour 1768-1771) on April 29th, 1770 at Botany Bay, in present day New South Wales, Australia. This is based on voyage accounts from James Cook, Joseph Banks, and Sydney Parkinson. Sketches by Parkinson and John Frederick Miller depict a shield matching this description, with the hole near the shield centre being clearly visible in Miller’s drawing. Three fishspears also collected during this encounter are in the collections of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge.

    Voyage accounts:
    Beaglehole, J.C. (ed.), 1955. The Journals of Captain Cook: The Voyage of the Endeavour, 1768-1771. Cambridge : For the Hakluyt Society at the University Press (entry for April 29th, 1770).

    Beaglehole, J.C. (ed.), 1963. The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks, 1768-1771, Volume II. Sydney, London : Angus & Robertson (from page 54, from page 133).

    Parkinson, Sydney, 1773. A journal of a voyage to the South Seas, in his Majesty's ship, the Endeavour. London: Richardson and Urquhart (from p.134)

    Pictorial references:
    John Frederick Miller, 1771, shield, fish spear and javelins from New Holland…
    British Library, Add. 23920, f.35

    Sydney Parkinson, 1770, Two Aborigines and Canoes
    British Library, Add. 9345, f.14v

    Thomas Chambers, 1773, Two of the Natives of New Holland, Advancing to Combat
    Plate XXVII, in Sydney Parkinson, 1773, A Journal of the Voyage to the South Seas. London: Stanfield Parkinson.

    Tupaia, priest and navigator from Ra’iatea, 1770, Aborigines in two canoes
    British Library, Add. Ms. 15508 F.10 (9)

    Interpretive sources:
    Nugent, Maria, 2005. Botany Bay: Where histories meet. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

    Nugent, Maria, 2009. Captain Cook was here. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Thomas, Nicholas, 2003. Discoveries: The Voyages of Captain Cook. London: Allen Lane (chapter 8).

    Thomas, Nicholas, 2006. Cook’s sites. Sydney: Historic Houses Trust.

    Accounts from the early period of European settlement (from 1788) note that the southern shore of Botany Bay was known as Gwea, and therefore the people from that area called themselves the Gweagal.

    See Nugent, Maria, 2009. Captain Cook was here. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (pp.11-12).

    British Museum scientists used variable pressure scanning electron microscopy (VP-SEM) to identify the wood as Rhizophora stylosa (Red Mangrove). Radiographic images reveal adze marks on the shield. Radiographic images also suggest that the ragged edges of the hole at the centre are consistent with it being a point of damage, rather than the result of a natural knot of wood falling out, for example. White material randomly distributed on shield surface was identified by FTIR as kaolin clay (June 2010).

    Identified as a shield of the elemong type, by Val Attenbrow, Australian Museum, Sept 2010.


  • Bibliography

    • MacGregor 2010 89 bibliographic details
  • Location


  • Exhibition history


    Loaned to Penshurst Place, Kent in 1987
    2010 Sept-Dec, London, BM History of the World 100 objects.
    2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
    Requested NMA loan

  • Science

    See investigations 

    Analysis date

    9 June 2010

    Reason for analysis


    Analysis title

    Examination of an Australian bark shield (Oc1978,Q.839)

    Analysis outline

    Oc1978,Q.839 is a bark shield, believed to be that obtained in 1770 in Botany Bay, New

    South Wales, Australia by Captain Cook, which featured in the A History of the World radio

    series and project run in collaboration with the BBC in 2010. It was examined using optical

    and scanning electron microscopy (SEM), X-radiography and Fourier transform infrared

    (FTIR) spectroscopy, to answer a number of curatorial questions that arose during the

    preparation of the script for the radio series.

    SEM examination of samples from the shield and handle showed both to be made of

    Rhizophora stylosa (one of several mangrove taxa which has the common name of red

    mangrove). The shield appears to have been shaped with short, shallow adze strokes and

    finished by smoothing/rubbing. The handle is made from a separate piece of fresh green R.

    stylosa wood inserted very tightly into two holes bored in the shield's vertical mid-section.

    The central hole is unlikely to result from loss of knotwood or attack by worms as has been

    suggested. From close examination of the hole it is much more likely to be an impact or

    damage point, although it is not possible to suggest how this was caused.

    FTIR showed the creamy white material thinly deposited on the surface to contain kaolinite,

    probably in the form of a clay, and an acrylic. It is unclear whether this was applied as a

    pigment or is an accidental deposit. The acrylic suggests the wood may have been

    consolidated as part of previous conservation treatment.

    Analysis reference number


    About these records 

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Joseph Banks reported in his journal: 'Defensive weapons we saw only in Sting-Rays [Botany] bay and there only a single instance - a man who attemped to oppose our Landing came down to the Beach with a shield of an oblong shape about 3 feet long and 1 1/4 broad made of the bark of a tree; this he left behind when he ran away and we found upon taking it up that it plainly had been pierced through with a single pointed lance near the centre.' (Beaglehole (ed.), The Endeavour Journal of Sir Joseph Banks 1768-1771, vol. II, Sydney, 1963, p.133).

  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


Shield, undecorated, of curved oval form. A thin handle attached to inside centre of shield. Pierced hole near centre.

Shield, undecorated, of curved oval form. A thin handle attached to inside centre of shield. Pierced hole near centre.

Image description



If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: collectiondatabase@britishmuseum.org 

View open data for this object with SPARQL endpoint

Object reference number: EOC25006

British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.

View this object

Support the Museum:
donate online

The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.

About the database

The British Museum collection database is a work in progress. New records, updates and images are added every week.

More about the database 


Work on this database is supported by a range of sponsors, donors and volunteers.

More about supporters and how you
can help