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Ancestral Skull

Arts of the Pacific Islands

MEDIUM Human skull, clay, pigment, cowrie shells, human hair
DATES early 20th century
DIMENSIONS 8 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 9 1/4 in. (21.6 x 19.1 x 23.5 cm)  (show scale)
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CREDIT LINE Frank L. Babbott Fund
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CAPTION Iatmul. Ancestral Skull, early 20th century. Human skull, clay, pigment, cowrie shells, human hair, 8 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 9 1/4 in. (21.6 x 19.1 x 23.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Frank L. Babbott Fund, 62.18.1. Creative Commons-BY
IMAGE overall, 62.18.1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Modeled clay on human skull (Mbwatnggowi [?]). Condition of object is fair. Claylike material and paint appear to be unstable on proper right forehead, and upper decorative border on the proper left eye. Surfaces are dusty. From catalogue card: Human skull modeled over with clay and painted red with black designs. Cowrie shell inlaid for eyes and design in shell also on forehead and around head. Twisted strands of black human hair attached to back of skull. Condition: Good. Collected in 1934-36 during voyage of the ship "Korrigane." Such skulls were used by the Iatmul in funerary ceremonies where they were set atop a figure, and in fertility ceremonies where they were displayed atop of poles and manipulated as marionettes. The skull of the dead ancestor, or one who was thought to be beautiful, was decorated to imitate the facial painting of the deceased. Skulls of headhunting victims were similarly decorated and kept as trophies.
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