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The Cowichan Bay Bowl

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • The Cowichan Bay Bowl
  • Description

    Human figure, lamp (?) made of stone (steatite).

  • Ethnic name

  • Date

    • 400BC-AD400 (Marpole Culture)
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 20 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    This bowl is one of approximately fifty known examples of human-figure bowls from British Columbia, most found along the Fraser River. The purpose and origin of these bowls is unknown, but it is likely, based on their distribution, that they had ritual significance to the Salish peoples of the region, perhaps associated with burial rites and/or water rituals. There is little clear information on the ages of these bowls but they appear to be from a wide age distribution: those with an archaeological context suggest dates of around 1000 CE, but there is anecdotal evidence that they were in use by certain native shamans into the nineteenth century (see Duff 1956). This is one of two such bowls in the British Museum collection, the other being Am1976,03.22 (Duff no.48).<b> McEwan 2009, p.41

    Seated Figure. Soapstone (steatite), Northwest Coast, Strait of Georgia tradition, USA 1st-9th century </b>

    As in many other figurine traditions in the Americas, this pieces seems intended to replicate in miniature some aspect of social and spiritual life that was especially significant for the community. It is carved in soft soapstone with additional incised detailing of the head and hands. The encircling arms form a receptacle and the object may represent, or perhaps have been used in, shamanic or puberty rites.


  • Bibliography

    • Mitchell 1990 fig.4 bibliographic details
    • Inverarity 1950 No 41 bibliographic details
    • Duff 1956 No.32, p.34 bibliographic details
    • McEwan 2009 p. 41 bibliographic details
    • King 1999 p.160 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G26/dc7

  • Exhibition history

    1980 Feb-1983 Aug, Museum of Mankind, Room 9; Art Made for Strangers: Haida Argillite Carving
    1993-95, London, Museum of Mankind, 'Treasures of the Americas'
    1999 25 Jun-Present, BM Room 26; Gallery of North America, Case: "The Northwest Coast of America"

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • Duff no.32 (Duff catalogue number)


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Object reference number: ENA5575

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