Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What is the story of this object?

One of the delights of working at the Norfolk Island Museum is that we get to immerse ourselves in Norfolk’s never-ending stories that range from the time of Polynesian settlement, through two penal settlements and of course since the arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders in 1856. At the Museum we also have our displays and collection of artefacts that help to us to understand and tell those stories. However our stories are never really complete – new information and objects continue to come forward and we know that at the museum we need the help of our local community to tell us about the objects they have that are ‘part of the story’.

 Danny Forsyth has recently helped us to do just that! He brought in a stone object that was discovered under his house back in the late 1990’s. It looks to be a stone pestle or pounder – the same sort of object as we have on display and on loan from the Museum of Tropical Queensland that was recovered from the wreck of the Pandora, possibly belonging to mutineer Peter Haywood and collected by him in Tahiti. As Danny’s object looks to be old the first thought we had was that it could have been a pounder from the Polynesian settlement on Norfolk. We have never seen a similar type of pounder found on Norfolk from this period – which would make this an extremely important object and help with more of the story from this period of time. We were obviously thrilled to have been shown it.

There are many questions that this object raises. Firstly, pestles are not usually made of sandstone – but perhaps it was used for mashing rather than pounding so it didn’t need to be made of a harder substance such as coral or basalt? We also need to establish if it is made of the local calcaronite, and if it is not from here – then where? The shape is unusual and not typically Polynesian. It has a rather flat top to it and the base kicks out right at the bottom – both of which are uncommon in Polynesian pestles. However a search through the Te Papa Museum on-line collection in Wellington shows a very similar shaped pestle from the Cook Islands with a flat top – is it linked to this region? A search of Melanesian shaped pestles may rule out if it was perhaps brought to the island by a scholar from the Mission. Another idea is that it may have been made locally by one of the early Pitcairn Islanders. A small indentation at the top of the neck could have been a scratch mark? Atholl Anderson who led the 1990’s Polynesian excavations at Emily Bay has seen photos of it and is unsure about its Polynesian origins but is checking with his colleagues at the Australian National University.

We would love to know if any other similar shaped objects have been found across the island. We would really appreciate the opportunity to have a look at any further pieces to help us not only make sense of Danny’s object, but to potentially expand our knowledge of the Polynesian settlement on Norfolk Island. Danny’s pestle will be on display at the Commissariat Store Museum in the Polynesian cabinet if you would like to come and have a look. If you have found a similar type of object please consider giving me a call on 23788 so we could see it, take a photo and do some more research. You never know, together with Danny you might be providing an important new chapter to one of our Island’s stories.

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