Cults associated with sacred stones were once prevalent throughout the highlands. Sacred stones included oddly shaped river rocks or unearthed objects created by ancient highlands cultures, such as mortars, pestles, club heads and zoomorphic figurines. Ancestral and other spirits resided in these earthly forms, establishing a direct link with the spiritual world. The Enga people believed sacred stones were handed down from the 'sky people' who came to earth and created mankind; others thought they were the petrified bones of the ancestors. Stored in ritual houses or buried at sacred sites, stones were 'fed' the blood or fat of pigs on ritual occasions.
Archaeologists believe prehistoric stone mortars were used to grind seeds and nuts for nourishment, and pigments for ceremonies. The mortar displayed here contains residues of the blue mineral vivianite, used ritually to colour shields, cult figures and other objects across the southern highlands region. Vivianite is also associated with cassowary hunting in the eastern highlands.
[Exhibition text for 'Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands', AGNSW, 2014]
circa 6000 BCE-circa 1000 BCE
stone, hammer-pecked, blue pigment (vivianite)
17.0 x 19.0 x 19.5 cm
Not on display
© Wiru people, under the endorsement of the Pacific Islands Museums Association's (PIMA) Code of Ethics
Where the work was made
Shown in 1 exhibition
Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 May 2014–10 Aug 2014
Referenced in 2 publications
Tony Tuckson, Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Sydney, 1973, 50. cat.no. H39
Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands, Sydney, 2014, 70 (colour illus.), 160. cat.no. 16