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  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Pestle carved from stone, in the form of a slender, elongated bird with a long neck curving into a stylised head. Half way along the length of the body are rounded, forward-facing wings and a short tail. The base of the pestle is a bulb of rounded cylindrical form.

  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 6000BC-2000BC (approx)
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 36.2 centimetres (approx)
    • Width: 7.3 centimetres (approx)
    • Depth: 9.1 centimetres (approx)
  • Curator's comments

    Information from Pacific Art in Detail: The earliest agricultural people of New Guinea are traceable through archaeology rather than oral history. This stone pestle in the form of a bird is very delicately carved, therefore, it was probably only used on ritual occasions. It testifies the early existence of a complex society with ceremonial system and it also indicates the persistence of the cultural importance of birds, which were to become persuasive in Pacific myth and cosmology.


  • Bibliography

    • MacGregor 2010 cat.no.6, pp.33-36 bibliographic details
    • Gathercole et al 1979 p. 204 bibliographic details
    • Newell 2011 p. 62 bibliographic details
    • Brunt et al, 2012 p.26 bibliographic details
  • Exhibition history


    1977 London, BM, Animals in Art
    2009 1 May-20 Sep, Victoria, Royal BC Museum, Treasures of the World's Cultures
    2010 Sept-Dec, London, BM History of the World 100 objects
    2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
    2011-2012 25 Oct-5 Feb, Perth, Western Australian Museum, Extraordinary Stories from the British Museum
    2014 23 Apr-1 Aug, Abu Dhabi, Manarat al Saadiyat, History of the World 100 objects
    2014-2015 13 Dec–Mar 15, Taiwan, National Palace Museum (NPM), History of the World 100 objects
    2015 18 Apr-Jul 2015, Japan, Tokyo, Metropolitan Art Museum, History of the World 100 objects PROMISED
    2015 Jul-Oct, Japan, Fukuoka, Kyushu National Museum, History of the World 100 objects PROMISED
    2015-2016 Oct-11 Jan, Japan, Kobe, Kobe City Museum, History of the World 100 objects PROMISED
    2016 20 Feb-18 June, Perth, National Museum of Western Australia, History of the World 100 objects PROMISED
    2016-2017 8 Sept-29 Jan, Canberra, National Museum of Australia, History of the World 100 objects PROMISED
    2017-2018 (tbc) History of the World 100 objects PROMISED

  • Conservation

    See treatments 

    Treatment date

    6 November 2013

    Reason for treatment


    Treatment proposal

    Improve old fill in the centre.


    The piece is sound and stable some surface dirt. Two previously restored breaks are present, one to the neck, one below the wings. The latter had been scratched, exposing the white fill beneath the paint. Much of the paint had darkened with age and was therefore unsightly. Several scratches were present to grinding end of the pestle and to the small pad attached to it.

    Treatment details

    Some localised cleaning using Acetone (propan-1-one/dimethyl ketone) and deionised water 1:1, applied using a cotton swab. The darkened paint on the fill beneath the wings was removed using Acetone, and then retouched using Rowney's Cryla colours (acrylic) to match the surrounding stone.

    The scratches were "knocked back’ to blend with surrounding original material using Rowney's Cryla colours (acrylic).

    About these records 

  • Subjects

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number



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

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Object reference number: EOC12572

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