Middle Sepik overmodelled skull

Middle Sepik

Papua New Guinea  

Circa 1900

Otto Reche, in his 1913 reference publication "The Empress Augusta / Sepik River" (1908-1910 expedition), mentions two main groups of skulls to be distinguished: Skulls of members of the tribe and those of the dead enemies. He adds that both can be subdivided into two further groups:

- Undercorated / cursorily painted specimens or skulls with a face modelled in clay and ;

- Enemy skulls with carvings on the forehead  or undecorated specimens.

The present skull from the middle Sepik river (probably from the Iatmul people but it could also be from the neighboring Sawos people) falls into the first group, first sub-category, of the overmodelled skulls of members of the tribe. Also noted by Reche "A portion of the skulls with modelled faces is painted in one colour".

It is precisely what attracted us to this piece in the first place. The full black colour is rarely seen though a few examples exist in collections, such as the famous Barbier Mueller example on the cover of "Vision d'Océanie" (reproduced here - you can also consult the 3D CT Scan of this piece made by Dr Marc Ghysels here - all rights reserved)

On this example the surface was repainted in black at some point as we can see the black colour covering places where the clay crumbled. When was it repainted is a difficult question and we cannot be definitive about it. The eyes are signified by inserted cowrie shells and there is a little tuff of hair stored inside the skull.or

The present skull comes from a parisian collection and was acquired from Guy Ladrière and Charles Ratton. It is mounted on a fantastic Inagaki style custom base by Romain Laforêt.   

H: 18 cm (7 inches)

Price: enquiry