Easter Island art is not all about the giant stone moai heads–the wooden figurines the islanders used to carve out of crooked toromiro tree branches (or, sometimes, driftwood) are just as weird and wonderful. Here, I want to tell you about the genre of Easter Island art known as moai kavakava–that is, “ribcage figure”.

A slightly crooked moai kavakava. (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A slightly crooked moai kavakava. (Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Moai kavakava sculptures tend to be about 50-60 cm high, and depict grinning old men with goatee beards and hugely protruding ribcages and backbones. Their earlobes are large and pendulous (possibly because they are weighed down by chunky earrings), the arms are disproprtionately long and the legs disproportionally short, and the tops of their bald heads are often decorated with enigmatic motifs such as stars, crouching quadrupeds, and men’s faces ornamented with long, flowing beards. Could these be tattoos? Symbols of whatever clan the sculptures belonged to? Who knows. Moai kavakava also tend to be slightly crooked, and some have suggested that it’s because suitable trees were scarce on the island, and carvers had to make do with branches that were a bit bent and weird–but I would take this story with a pinch of salt.

This is the sort of thing that you can see on some moai kavakava sculptures' heads. (Image credit: Heyerdahl 1976: 182)

This is the sort of thing that you can see on some moai kavakava sculptures’ heads. (Image credit: Heyerdahl 1976: 182)

The whites of a moai kavakava‘s eyes will have been carved out of fish vertebrae, shells, or Europeans’ pant buttons, and the pupils were made out of obsidian. That is, when they’re there at all–a lot of museum moai kavakava lack one or two pupils, more than we’d expect if they just fell off at random. Based on comparisons with other Polynesian traditions (for example, the Maori), it’s likely that the figures were believed to be alive when both their pupils were inserted, so whoever sold them to Westerners probably ensured that they were little more than inert pieces of wood at the moment of the transaction.

I don’t know if moai kavakava are still produced today, but I do know that, in the 1950s, and possibly starting from the nineteenth century, they were carved in large quantities and sold to tourists. There’s one anthropologist (Métraux 1954: 147) who disapprovingly mentions the “aberrant forms made to gratify the bad taste of Chilean crews”–unfortunately, I couldn’t find any pictures (except, possibly, for the one below), but apparently these sculptures, though in many ways similar to the more traditional ones, also wore sailor’s caps, or did military salutes, or held smaller copies of themselves in their arms.

Someone put a wig on that moai kavakava--could be tourist tat? (Image credit: http://www.famadit.cl/rapanui.html)

Someone put a wig on that moai kavakava–could be tourist tat? (Image credit: http://www.famadit.cl/rapanui.html)

But to return to the more traditional forms… what were they about?

Many authors have suggested that the moai kavakava figures depicted actual people. Heyerdahl (1976: 186) even quotes an anonymous native informant as saying that “[o]ur ancestors did not know how to take photographs […] but they knew how to illustrate by carving”, suggesting that wood carving was the ancient Easter Islanders’ equivalent of photography.

Heyerdahl himself tells the story of a legendary Easter Island folk hero, Tuu-ko-ihu, stumbling one day upon two figures lying inside a “crater”. These figures were little more than skin and bones, and they were lying so still that Tuu-ko-ihu thought they were dead–except then they woke up (in some versions of the story they were roused by an unseen third member of their party) and, having spotted Tuu-ko-ihu, proceeded to chase him all the way home, making it clear he was not speak about them to anyone. So, instead of telling everyone what he’d just experienced, Tuu-ko-ihu simply carved a likeness of those ugly creatures–and thus the first ever moai kavakava were made.

(Image credit: Kjellgren 2001: 48)

(Image credit: Kjellgren 2001: 48)

In Heyerdahl’s (1976: 186) version of the story, the two figures were the island’s mythical original inhabitants, “driven into the mountains by the newcomers and then driven frantic by famine”. However, there is no archaeological evidence for the ancestors of modern-day Eastern Islanders taking their land from previous inhabitants–as far as we can tell, the ancestors of modern-day Easter Islanders were the first to ever set foot on the island.

Another popular theory is that the moai kavakava figures depicted ancient Easter Islanders who had starved themselves to death, or almost to death, by completely trashing their island’s ecosystem. However, as Beverley Haun (among others) argues in her 2010 book Inventing “Easter Island”, Easter Island was probably not destroyed by its own inhabitants, so this interpretation also lacks credibility.

Another crooked specimen. (Image credit: Kjellgren 2001: 48)

Another crooked specimen. (Image credit: Kjellgren 2001: 48)

Also, realistic representation of things just isn’t what Polynesian art is about. Almost any example you could think of of an anthropomorphic sculpture from that region of the Pacific will be understood by its makers as a slightly mind-bending combination of a vessel for an ancestor’s spirit to inhabit during rituals (in this case, when the obsidian pupils are inserted), and the ancestor him- or herself. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Heyerdahl’s one anonymous twentieth-century informant was right when he said that Easter Islanders were the only population in prehistoric Polynesia to develop realistic portraiture (it is the most remote of the islands), but, overall, it seems unlikely–the fact that all moai kavakava look alike, the weird stuff going on with their pupils, and a story of Tuu-ko-ihu calling back a wayward spirit into one of his woodcarvings, all make more sense if the moai kavakava were ancestor figures rather than a way of proto-photographing your famine-struck friends and families. Oh and there are some strange examples of moai kavakava with, instead of the usual grinning old man’s face, have the head of a lizard, or that of a bird–which, again, suggests that they were metaphysical beings rather than physical ones.

A bird-headed and -winged ribcage figure: what's going on here? (Image credit: Kaeppler 2001: 36)

A bird-headed and -winged ribcage figure: what’s going on here? (Image credit: Kaeppler 2001: 36)

And, in another version of the story Heyerdahl tells, this time told by Métraux, the entities that Tuu-ko-ihu stumbles upon were apus (that is, more or less, spirits/ancestors), not starving refugees.

Why talk about this stuff in an archaeology blog? As I’ve said before, in my post about Hawaiian wood carvings, so much has happened between eighteenth-century colonial contact and the present day, so little lore has been retained from those times, that many traditional Polynesian cultures are as lost to us as cultures that disappeared thousands of years ago. So there is very little difference between how we can try to approach what remains of relatively recent Polynesian cultures, and long-lost ones from other parts of the world.

I should say, moai kavakava figures are not the only types of wooden figures that Easter Islanders used to carve–but that, perhaps, is a story for another post…


Haun, B. 2010. Inventing “Easter Island”. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Heyerdahl, T. 1976. The Art of Easter Island. London: Allen & Unwin.

Kaeppler, A. 2001. Rapa Nui art and aesthetics. In Kjellgren, E. (ed) Splendind Isolation: Art of Easter Island pp. 32-41. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Kjellgren, E. 2001. Splendid Isolation: Art of Easter Island. New York. Metropolitan Museum of New York.

Metraux, A. 1957. Easter Island: A Stone-Age Civilization of the Pacific. London: Deutsch.



There’s a blog carnival going on over at Doug’s Archaeology Blog (a sort of months-spanning inter-blog conference), about blogging archaeology. This is my almost-late-but-not-quite reply to January’s question, What are your best (or if you want your worst) post(s) and why? 

In many ways, Moche Sex Pots, Part One is my best post. It’s my most popular post, by a very long way–a whopping (for me, anyway) 1,691 views and counting. Moche sex pots are ancient ceramics from Northern Peru, which depict people engaging in the most varied types of sexual intercourse. Moche Sex Pots, Part One is a good post: it’s clearly written and accessible, it provides some cultural context, and it makes a good case for taking these pots seriously as precious clues for understanding Moche society, and thinking about them in ways that do not include cliches like “LOL check out these crazy sex pots! prehistoric people were total horndogs!” or “people in the past were more comfortable with their sexuality, we can learn a lot from them” or “Moche society collapsed because of their unholy sexual practices”. I also got a lot of very good comments for this post: one reader mused about what future anthropologists might theorise about modern Western society based on its porn, a couple of others asked some smart questions that I was able to answer decently (always a self-esteem-booster), and the post even triggered a great exchange on facebook with a friend, which at one point had me almost fall off my chair laughing (below).

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 09.25.32

However, I feel like it is not much of an achievement to have lured so many new pairs of eyes to these pages through a post about sex. Also I’m slightly mystified that, compared to 1,691 people who read Part One, only 174 read Part Two… an uncharitable part of me thinks that a lot of those 1,691 only clicked on Part One to see dirty pictures… although it may very well be mistaken.

My personal favourite among my posts is probably Obscure Pre-Columbian Sunday: The Mirthless Mixtecs. I’m very proud of the idea of writing short articles on the cultures that the popular British Horrible Histories series did not dedicate books to, and I’m very proud of the alliteration in the title, and comparing a scene in one of the screenfolds to a scene in the Viggo Mortensen Russian mafia film Eastern Promises. I also loved having an excuse to take out my library’s copy of one of the screenfolds, and showing it off to all my friends. I think it’s exactly the kind of colourful, fun but scholarly alternative to a Wikipedia article that I wanted to write–although, on the negative side, I’ve found it very difficult to follow with a new Obscure Pre-Columbians post.

Runners-up for the title of “best post” should be, I think, Thoughts About El Tepozteco (a site I visited in Mexico before I’d even considered studying archaeology–it was wonderful to re-visit it in my mind and almost magically come up with a completely new way of seeing it), Poor Yoricks (which is very rambly but full of interesting ideas I’d like to follow up on) and The Book That Blew My Tiny Little Child’s Mind (although, in retrospect, I’m not sure I’m happy with that title).

As for my worst post… going on views alone, there’s Unsexy, Humdrum Ceramics, which, apparently, was only read by two people. I published it the week after Moche Sex Pots, Part Two, in an attempt to compensate for all the attention I’d drawn to such titillating stuff, and show that non-sexy pots could be cool too. I don’t know if people didn’t read it because of the title, because I didn’t manage to make “uninteresting” pots interesting, or because they just weren’t interested to begin with.

Ethically, my worst post is “the head of the god G”, “probably cormorants” and Other Accidental Auction Catalogue Poems. It was about some weirdly poetical descriptions I’d found in a Sotheby’s catalogue of African, Oceanian and Pre-Columbian art. I was quite pleased with it, until, a few moths later, I stumbled on some stuff about the illegal trade in antiquities and dodgy auction house practices, and realised that, with that one post, however inconsequential it may have been in the grand scheme of things, I was nonetheless drawing some positive attentions to an organisation that does a lot to ruin our understanding of the past, by transforming precious clues about ancient times into context-less art objects. I was so ashamed that I deleted it–but kept it visible on my own private settings so I could be reminded of my mistakes.

Your Unicorn’s Got Lumpy Legs–So What?? is also pretty bad, though it got a few likes. It’s about how useful drawing things is to understand them, but it became a somewhat show-offy and self-indulgent ramble.

But this is what I think–what is the best post in your opinion, readers? Or the one you liked least?

Everybody knows that the Inca sacrificed children to their gods. Just last year, the internet was all over a study suggesting that the mummified corpses of sacrificed children from 15th-century Peru retained traces of alcohol and drugs–often with lurid titles describing the children as “stoned” and “drunk” before dying. A lot of people find the subject of human sacrifice captivating, myself included–perhaps because people enjoy reading about gruesome things (gruesome things, in this case, which actually happened, which must add a certain extra frisson of excitement) while in the relative comfort and safety of their homes or offices. And, really, there’s nothing wrong with that–if they help us understand past cultures, we shouldn’t avoid discussing certain topics simply because they have popular appeal. But, in the case of the Inca, I think all this attention towards child sacrifice has ended up making us forget that there were loads of other children, all across the Inca empire, who were not sacrificed. What was life like for them?

It turns out almost nothing has been written on this subject. With a few notable exceptions, archaeologists tend to neglect children as a demographic. This might be due partly to the fact that Westerners, and therefore Western archaeologists, tend to think of children as carefree beings who do nothing but play all day and whose actions have no consequence on wider social or cultural phenomena. Or, alternatively, they tend to think of children as passive recipients of the cultural norms and rules that their parents, teachers and other elders transmit to them. But children are people, no matter how small or strange they might be, and they have agency, thoughts and opinions about things–which are just as interesting and informative in the study of past cultures as those of adults.

So how do we start trying to figure out what life was like for little Incas*? Guaman Poma’s New Chronicle and Good Government (which is also known by other titles) is probably a good place to begin. Guaman Poma was an Inca nobleman who lived at the time of Spanish rule, and left a written account, in Spanish, of Inca life both before and after the Spanish conquest. The Inca Empire was absolutely massive, and Guaman Poma tells us that one of the ways its rulers tried to control it was by regularly gathering data on its population. Once every six months, officials would be sent to all corners of the empire to perform a census–apparently, each time it took about three days to count all the males in one particular ethnic group, and three more days to count all the females. The numbers would be recorded through a system of knotted strings known as quipu, and which is still largely undeciphered today.

What does this have to do with Inca children? Well, each ethnic group was divided into ten classes. These classes were based on economic productivity and social consequence–so 25- to 50-year-olds came first, 60- to 70-year-olds second, the extremely elderly third, the disabled fourth, 18- to 20-year-olds fifth, and then, successively, teenagers, 5- to 9-year-olds, toddlers, and babies.

Not much use? A toddler (right) and a "playful little boy of five years" (left).

Not much use? A toddler (right) and a “playful little boy of five years” (left) (Poma 2009: 160-161). What kind of object is that boy playing with? It doesn’t look like any toy I’m familiar with. And what of his animal hat? Animal headdresses in other Pre-Columbian cultures are often believed to have something to do with shamanism (i.e. they connect the wearer with some kind of spirit animal), but that was probably not the case here. These and the following drawings were all done by Guaman Poma himself.

This might seem to suggest that children were seen as of no consequence in Inca society, and indeed Guaman Poma only talks about what is done to toddlers and babies, rather than what they do–they are breastfed by their mothers, they are rocked in their cradles and generally taken care of by their parents and elder siblings. And the first thing Guaman Poma says of 5- to 9-year-olds is that they are disciplined by their parents through frequent beatings**. But then, beginning from this age, kids also started gradually accumulating a broad repertoire of skills that would serve them well as imperial subjects.

This drawing depicts a "playful little girl of five", but she's already helping with household (?) chores.

This drawing depicts a “playful little girl of five”, but she’s already helping with household (?) chores (Poma 2009: 176).

Girls would be the first to learn new skills: 9-year-olds probably already knew how to spin thread, gather herbs, and brew beer. Between the ages of 9 and 12, boys would learn to trap birds (whose skin was made into leather, whose flesh was cooked and eaten, and whose feathers ended up ornamenting shields and weapons), while girls gathered flowers in the fields, and used the pigments in the petals to dye the turbans and other precious garments worn by the nobles. Teenage boys would mostly tend to herds of llamas and alpacas up in the higher altitudes, but they would also learn how to use lassoos, traps and slings to hunt and kill animals. Occasionally, they would be picked to serve their betters. Teenage girls were expected to be “submissive and respectful”, to cook and clean, to obey their elders’ orders and stay away from men until they were given one to marry. Apparently, they also kept their hair short and their feet bare.

Flower Picker

A 9-year-old flower-picker (Poma 2009: 175).


A 12-year-old boy herder, carrying birds he probably killed himself (Poma 2009: 157)–possibly after having trapped them in that big net he’s holding? The only context I’m aware of in which similar nets are used is bird- and bat-catching for the purpose of wildlife studies.

Girl herder

Girl herder (Poma 2009: 173): short-haired but not barefoot. And accompanied by a dog. Interesting that Guaman Poma only says that boys herded llamas and alpacas, then shows a 12-year-old girl performing this very thing (while he male counterpart is more interested in bird-trapping).

In order to prepare the boys for war, and the girls for married life, both were kept away from fatty, sugary or greasy food, honey, vinegar, hot condiments, and beer.

The Spanish also left behind a few texts that help us learn more about Inca childhood. A Jesuit priest by the name of Bernabe’ Cobo, in particular, gives us a bit more information on the lives of babies than Guaman Poma does. Cobo tells us that a freezing bath in a mountain’s stream was one of the first things an Inca baby would experience. Soon after, the baby’s head was bound so that it would assume a more attractive shape than boring old usual head shapes. Cone shapes were popular among some highland communities, for example. Four days after the bath, the baby, who had presumably spent those four days naked, was finally wrapped in swaddling clothes, and placed in a cradle. The latter was a small board with four feet, equipped with a blanket for padding and some light restraints to prevent the child from falling off; it was also designed so that the mother could walk around with it strapped to her back.

Guamam Poma's drawing of a baby girl in her cradle.

Baby girl in her cradle (Poma 2009: 180). You can see the bindings around her head, that were meant to shape her cranium in an aesthetically pleasing way.

Freezing baths continued, and the mother would never take the baby into her arms or on her lap, for fear of spoiling her. Once she reached the venerable age of two, the child was finally named, during an elaborate hair-cutting ceremony called the rutuchicoy, which I think is still practiced in certain Andean communities today. The likely reason why people waited so long before naming the child was because infant mortality was so high.

Guamam Poma's drawing of a baby boy.

Baby boy (Poma 2009: 163).

Of course, not all children were the same. A half-Spanish, half-Inca chronicler by the name of Garcilaso de la Vega recalls that boys of noble blood, both Inca and non, went to school in Cusco, the capital, for four years, and there they were taught Quechua (the empire’s official language, still spoken today in some Andean communities), Inca religion and history, quipu accounting, and the proper use of weapons. As for girls, the prettiest ones were taken from their families at the age of ten and sequestered inside so-called Houses of the Chosen Women (aqllawasi). Here, after four years of learning about Inca religion, weaving, cooking and beer-brewing, these “Chosen Women” (aqllakuna) would either go on to become priestesses, or be given as trophy wives to men who had curried the Emperor’s favour. Much work has actually been written on the aqllakuna.

Finally, it’s worth saying that I also found some information on the way illness was cured in kids. Fevers, apparently, were cured by bathing the child in a large pot filled to the brim with the entire family’s urine. And many other diseases were believed to be cured by giving the child his preserved umbilical cord to suck on–the act of sucking would, apparently, ensure that the cord itself would absorb all the evil that the child’s body contained. My source for these two nuggets of information is Terry Deary’s The Incredible Incas, from the Horrible Histories series of books, which unfortunately lack bibliographies, so this last paragraph may not actually be that reliable.

It seems, then, that we actually do know quite a lot about childhood in Inca times, even without archaeology. Should archaeologists bother to try to find out more? I think they should. If we want to find out what children’s lives were like in the past, we should go directly to the children themselves, and not just what adults said about them. And Inca children didn’t express themselves through writing, but through the objects they used in play, and in their household chores, and in their jobs out in the fields. Looking at these objects, both by themselves (the kinds of material they were made out of, how often they were used, how they were decorated, how they were discarded when broken or no longer needed) and within the context of archaeological sites (the kinds of spaces they tend to be found in, whether they were buried with children at death), would give us the closest thing to an insider’s perspective on the lives of children in the Inca Empire.

A potentially interesting question to investigate: can we distinguish slings used by children to trap birds and small animals from those used by adults in hunting and warfare? If so, what could the differences mean? Ancient South American slings are actually a pretty common find in a lot of archaeological sites and museums.

9-year-old hunter (Poma 2009: 158). A potentially interesting question to investigate: can we distinguish slings used by children to trap birds and small animals from those used by adults in hunting and warfare? If so, what could the differences mean?

There’s also the fact that Guaman Poma, and to a large extent Cobo and Garcilaso, both give us a pretty monolithic idea of Inca childhood. The Inca Empire covered a spectrum of languages and cultures, and it seems unlikely that children in all corners of the empire were treated and behaved in the same way. We know some groups were unhappy with Inca rule (for example, the Chachapoya of Peru’s cloud forests), and they may have encouraged rebellion in their children as well, lest they grow up as obedient imperial subjects. And we know some groups were favoured by the Inca (for example, the Chincha of the southern coasts), and it is possible that in many areas of their lives and cultures they were allowed to keep their old customs, which may or may not have included different notions of childhood and children than the ones the Inca had. What is needed here is a comparison of children’s material culture from disparate parts of the empire.

Of course, though I make it sound easy, none of this probably will be. But then, that’s what people used to say about the archaeology of women–there used to be an argument that, because women in the past were often confined to humble, domestic duties, it would be very difficult to “find” them in the archaeological record. Decades later, such a position would be derided–the literature on women’s lives in the past is staggering in its richness and complexity. So I am optimistic that something similar can be done with children’s lives in the Inca empire, as well.

If anyone has any comments or questions–if you know something about Inca childhood, or have seen objects associated with Inca children in museums, or want to know about the stuff I left out (mainly, initiation rituals), or anything else–I’d be very happy to hear from you!


* By which I mean children in the Inca empire–the Inca themselves were simply the dominant ethnic group, and they were in the minority.

** Guaman Poma provides a pretty vivid description of a child’s reaction at the pinching of his ears on the part of long-nailed elders–“the children’s eyes started out of their heads, tears came to them and they cried with the pain”. Guaman Poma also adds that the elders often grew their fingernails to be long and sharp, which would result in the punished children’s ears being pierced side to side. And at one point, Guaman Poma also says that children were flogged at the first disobedience, and sent to the gold or silver mines at the second, but I think he might be referring to very specific circumstances–though it’s not very clear.


D’Altroy, T. 2002. The Incas. Oxford: Blackwell.

Deary, T. The Incredible Incas. London: Scholastic.

Poma, G. 2009. The First New Chronicle and Good Government: On the History of the World and the Incas up to 1615. Translated by R. Hamilton. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Poma, G. 1978. Letter to a King: A Peruvian Chief’s Account of Life Under the Incas and Under Spanish Rule. Translated by C. Dilke. New York: E.P. Dutton.

It’s easy to see museum artefacts as static objects, nothing but the fossil remains of long-dead cultures. And it’s easy to forget that objects can have biographies almost in the same way as humans do–in the case of museum artefacts especially, what’s written on their labels often describes only one of the many phases of their long and varied lives. In this post, I will tell you the likely story of an enigmatic stone sculpture from sixteenth-century Sierra Leone, from its carving to its current residence in the storage rooms of Norwich’s Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts. The sculpture’s accession number at the museum is UEA 204, so I’ll just refer to it as “204”. There are many sculptures like it in museums across the world, and they are mostly known by the term nomoli (plural nomolisia), which means “found spirit” in Mende.

UEA 204

UEA 204. Height: 21 cm. Weight: more than you’d expect.

204 is a sculpture in the shape a seated male figure (Fig. 1). It has a bald, elongated head, bulging eyes, fleshy nose, and full lips. The head is marked by a V-shaped design that may represent a scarification mark, while the elbows are weighed down by ball-shaped bling which may or may not be of a similar kind as that worn by a horse-raider painted on the wall of a Kissi house in Guinea (below). The figure’s hands are holding something to its chin–perhaps 204 is tugging at his beard. Though most nomolisia are simply the (grey) colour of the stone they’re made of, 204 is covered in a black patina that probably derives from a combination of lamp-black and oil–more on this below.


Picture of a horse-rider found in a Kissi house.

204’s mother (or, indeed, its father) was an indistinct mass of steatite, which is a kind of soapstone. Its father (or mother) was most likely a 16th-century Sapi carver from Sierra Leone. This is based on two things: number one, the journals and accounts left behind by the Portuguese traders and explorers that visited West Africa at the time are rich in praise for the Sapi’s technical skill; number two, there are a number of stylistic similarities between nomolisia and the human figures ornamenting the “tourist art”commissioned by the Portuguese traders and explorers for their patrons back home (mostly slightly tacky ivory salt cellars known as “Afro-Portuguese ivories“).

204 depicts a seated male figure: could it have been a portrait? It is entirely possible, although it may also simply represent a generic elite figure, perhaps the likeness of an important ancestor. Either way, 204 likely depicts a powerful person. Most steatite sculptures from Sierra Leone (including the mahei yafei heads), correspond to Portuguese descriptions of West African chiefs, with their beards, elaborate hairstyles, filed teeth and large jewellery. 204’s appearance is not quite so striking in this sense as other pieces, but it does have a (possible, two-pronged) beard, and chunky elbow-bling, and the act of sitting on stools is a traditional indicator of power in much of Africa.

As I said, 204’s first life may have been as a Sapi ancestor figure. Travellers walking eastwards from Temne towns in modern-day Sierra Leone may come across a small structure with, inside, an altar known as am-boro ma-sar, upon which several stones are placed. Each of these stones will have been gathered from the gravesite of an important personage–each, then, is linked to a particular person, even if, after some time, only the altar’s caretaker may remember which stone is linked to whom. And every year, after harvest, a sacrifice is made to the stones, the altar is cleaned, and people recite propitiatory prayers to each of the past chiefs represented by the stones. It’s entirely possible that 204 was used in a similar way, although evidence for this is restricted to two very vague accounts. There’s a certain Fernandes, who writes, in 1506, that the Sapi made sacrifices to images of their ancestors, and that slaves and commoners fashioned these images out of wood–implying, perhaps, that the ancestors of the powerful were made of a different material, such as stone. And then there’s French General Beaulieu, writing in 1619 of the sacrifices the Sapi made to “little figures grotesquely shaped, made to look like devils” (Lamp 1983: 230).

And then–drama! In the early seventeenth century, Sapi territory was invaded by the Mani, a culture group that the Portuguese often described as the “barbarous” counterpart to the more “civilised” Sapi (though reality may well have been more complex), and the production of soapstone sculptures, nomolisia included, ceased. In 1575, a Frenchman named Thevet described an iconoclastic scene in which “the barbarians of the country” “split and brok[e]” a sculpture in “the likeness of a great toad or frog” (Lamp 1983: 230), which might well have been a nomoli. Most nomolisia have been found in caves, river beds, and beneath forest underbrush–sometimes in clusters of up to 50, sometimes singly–and it is entirely possible that the Sapi buried them in these places in order to protect them from Mani iconoclasm. It is likely that 204, also, spent several centuries hidden in the dark earth.

204 was probably unearthed again in the nineteenth or early twentieth century in a field, by a farmer. A Mr. Bruce of the Railway Survey of Sierra Leone reported that, in the Tiama district in 1902, farmers thought the nomolisia had been made by God, and that they in turn made farms fertile, but only if they were “placed on a pedestal of earth, usually an old ant-hill, in the field, and the farmer and his household walk[ed] round it chanting an appeal for a good crop, each in turn striking it with a whip” (Joyce 1905: 99). Conversely, a Mr. Hart wrote that, in the Bandajuma and Panguma districts, people thought nomolisia were made by the Devil, and, if whipped a sufficient number of times, they would go out at night, steal rice from neighbouring farms, and then plant it in that of their owners. We don’t know in which district 204 was dug up, so we don’t know if the farmers who likely came across it thought it came from God or from the Devil.

At some point, in the first few decades of the twentieth century, 204 became an art object–or, at least, something which some Europeans appreciated aesthetically, and which they were therefore willing to purchase. Up till then, Westerners had been largely dismissive of African art–we can see this in Thevet’s comparison of a possible nomoli to a “great toad or frog”, in nineteenth-century American missionary George Thompson’s pronouncement that nomolisia were “[e]vidence for the depravity of man”, and in T.A. Joyce’s 1905 article, in which he says that soapstone is so easy to carve (even with a figernail, he says) that no skill whatsoever was required to produced nomolisia. What changed? Most sources agree that a hugely important factor in this was the fact that prominent artists like Picasso, Matisse and Modigliani often took inspiration from African art for their own work.

For some reason, wooden sculpture was particularly popular with collectors, and perhaps it is for this reason that someone had the idea of covering 204 in lamp-black and oil: maybe they wanted to trick prospective buyers into thinking it was made of wood instead of stone. Whether or not the black patina played an important part in this, 204 attracted the attention of British painter Basil Jonzen, who acquired it in Bo, Sierra Leone, in the Forties, and brought it to the UK in 1944. Jonzen, then an extremely successful artist, and now completely forgotten, set up an art gallery in Kensington immediately after World War II, using his own collection as his original stock, and it was most likely in this gallery that Robert and Lisa Sainsbury first set their eyes on 204.

Bought in 1945, 204 was one of the first African artefacts to become part of the Sainsbury collection. Robert and Lisa Sainsbury apparently did not define themselves as “collectors”, but they certainly accumulated a large number of objects between the Thirties and the Eighties, from Henry Moore sculptures to Maori figurines, largely before any of these things were appreciated artistically (and, for that matter, before they were anywhere near as expensive as they would be today). They simply collected things that they liked. Robert himself admitted that, when he first started collecting it, he “didn’t appreciate [African art], […] didn’t understand it or know anything about it”, but he “straightforward liked it in sensual terms”. It was so that young people could share a similar aesthetic delight towards the objects they collected that the Sainsburys donated their collection to UEA in 1973. Since 1978, the collection has been housed at UEA’s Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, and objects like 204 have inspired countless essays and projects like this one.

However, 204 is not currently on display. Alana Jelinek wrote a wonderful novelette from the perspective of a Fijian “cannibal fork” at Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, The Fork’s Tale As Narrated By Itself, in which a chapter is devoted to the fork’s feelings of loss when it is put in storage, and kept away from humans. The fork says that it is only by entering the stories of humans, or embodying the stories humans learn about in museums, that it is fulfilled. All the objects share these feelings: the fork writes of the tension that is felt in the boxes whenever a curator enters the storerooms (everyone is wondering if anyone will be picked to be displayed), and, when the humans are not around, all the objects do is bicker about who is more worthy of being displayed, accusing other objects of being glorified tourist curios. Hopefully handling 204 in order to write this post made its stay in storage more tolerable, and the other objects won’t be too jealous of the attention I gave it, and call it names while no one is around.

So: this is how a plausible biography of 204 could be summarised. 204 was commissioned by Sapi elite and carved by a Sapi artist between the fifteenth and sixteenth century. It was originally intended as an ancestral figure to its lineage or community, and used for divinatory and/or propitiatory rituals, of a similar type as those of the modern-day Temne. In the sixteenth century, 204 was hidden underground, so that it could escape the iconoclastic tendencies of the invading Mani. In the nineteenth or early twentieth century, 204 was unearthed, in a field, by a farmer, and the farmer thought it would bring prosperity to his or her farm if treated correctly. At some point, however, someone had the idea of selling 204 as an art object to a European collector, and painted it black to make it look like a wooden sculpture. Basil Jonzen collected 204 in 1944, the Sainsburys bought it from him in 1945, and now 204 is in storage at the SCVA, which has housed the Sainsbury collection since 1978. Being in storage is occasionally peaceful, but 204 hopes to be back on display soon, as it enjoys being thought about by visitors, and lack of human contact makes the other objects extremely cranky.


Carey, M. 1997. Africa. In Hooper, S. (ed) Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, vol. 2: Pacific, African and Native North American Art pp. 96-217. New Haven; London: Yale University Press in association with University of East Anglia.

Hooper, S. 1997. Introduction. In Hooper, S. (ed) Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, vol. 1: European 19th and 20th Century Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture pp. xxv-lxxvii. New Haven; London: Yale University Press in association with University of East Anglia.

Jelinek, A. 2013. The Fork’s Tale as Narrated by Itself. London: LemonMelon.

Joyce, T.A. 1905. Steatite figures from West Africa in the British Museum. Man (5): 97-100.

Lamp, F.J. 1983. House of stones: memorial art of fifteenth-century Sierra Leone. The Art Bulletin (65, 2): 216-237.

There is this popular notion that the ancient inhabitants of Easter Island (also known as Rapa Nui) completely destroyed their own environment, long before the arrival of Europeans. By annihiliating the island’s forests through slash-and-burn agriculture and the erection of the moai statues, they are thought to have wrecked the island’s original ecosystem, thus committing “environmental suicide”. With only very little remaining in the way of resources, the Rapanui supposedly killed and even ate each other, until only a very small number of them remained when Europeans first set foot on the island.

Image from

Image taken from Amazon.co.uk.

However, I have recently come across a book which makes a very persuasive case that, in fact, ancient Easter Islanders may not have committed environmental suicide after all. This book is Beverly Haun’s Inventing Easter Island (2008).

First of all, Haun points out that, if you have a look at the sources for most articles and books on the alleged Easter Island catastrophe, they tend go all the way back not to eighteenth-century eyewitness accounts, but, rather, books written in the Nineties and Noughties–often, Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005) or Richard Wright’s A Short History of Progress (2005). Books like these often say their sources are eighteenth-century witness accounts, or traditional Easter Island lore, or archaeological evidence, but a bit of detective work reveals that, in fact, eighteenth-century accounts tend to be distorted to support the authors’ arguments, and other pieces of “evidence” offered are also not as sound as they may seem at first. An example: Wright says that Captain Cook described the few Easter Islanders he came across as “small, lean, timid and miserable”, but Haun (2008: 245-247) shows that Wright’s source is not Cook himself, but Flenley and Bahn, in The Enigma of Easter Island (2003), and the latter don’t say where exactly it is that Cook uses these words. It turns out the phrase appears nowhere in Cook’s papers. Another example: Diamond says that there is a cave known in Rapanui language as Ana Kai Tangata, which he translates to “man eat cave”. However, etymological research shows that, in fact, Ana Kai Tangata could also be translated as “cave where men eat”, or even “cave where tales are told” (kai means both “to eat” and “to tell”). Not only that, but the name of the cave may simply refer to the fact that the mouth of the cave is so large that it looks like it is eating whoever enters it, and it is also possible that it was named after Kai Tangata, a legendary Polynesian chief known throughout the Eastern Pacific (Haun 2008: 252).

The list of examples like these could go on. There’s also Wright’s assertion that Easter Islanders ate their own dogs, despite the fact that archaeologists have never unearthed dog remains on the island–most likely, if the original settlers tried to bring dogs with them, they probably did not even survive the voyage (Haun 2008: 242-243).

However, it is still possible that Easter Island did lose some or most of its trees as a result of human settlement.  One thing that does come up in eighteenth-century sources is the island’s lack of trees. Sedimentary pollen deposits and large root boles embedded in hardened lava flows suggest that the island once had decent forest coverage, but George Forster, who travelled to the island on Captain Cook’s ship in 1777, wrote that “there was not a tree upon the island, which exceeded the height of ten feet” (Haun 2008: 238). Ancient Easter Islanders would have used wood for building both boats and cooking fires, but also funeral pyres, as they were the only prehistoric Polynesians to cremate their dead. Also, the first settlers deliberately introduced an edible species of rat, Rattus exulans, which is likely to have had a significant impact on the environment–centuries-old gnawed seed rinds found in caves suggest that the rats quickly made short work of the island’s trees, which grew too slowly to recover properly (Haun 2008: 243). Interestingly, though, it seems unlikely that the island’s moai statues necessitated much wood: for one thing, it’s possible that no wood at all was needed, just three ropes and eighteen men; secondly, even if wood was required, Haun (2008: 245) points out that, of the almost 900 moai found, 397 were never transported beyond their original quarries, which means wood was never required to move them, while the 500 or so statues which were moved, were created over a span of 600 years. This suggests that, on average, only one moai per year needed logs to be transported and erected.

If they did experience or cause environmental change, the islanders successfully adapted to it. For one thing, they stopped cremating their dead and started burying them. Also, they replaced the hereditary transmission of power with annual “Bird Man” competitions that selected leaders on the basis of their athletic prowess, which probably led to a more equitable distribution of resources, since any family could produce athletic young men to vie for power (I don’t have the book with me right now, but I will add the references as soon as I get my hands on it again).

However land and people managed to thrive, eighteenth-century witness accounts describe Rapa Nui as a fairly nice place to live. Dutch explorer Roggeveen, the first European to write an eyewitness account of the island, does describe a land that, from a distance, gives an impression of “a singular poverty and barrenness”, but this is probably because he was visiting the island in the Southern Hemisphere’s autumn. In any case, a few pages later he comments that, having had a closer look at the Easter Island landscape, “this place, as far as its rich soil and good climate are concerned, is such that it might be made into an earthly paradise” (Haun 2008: 241-242). Similarly, the Spanish expedition that visited the island in 1770 leaves us the following account (Haun 2008: 242):

A fertile soil, which leaves nothing for the inhabitants to wish for, softens their manners, and inclines them to humanity. This is without doubt the cause of the sweet disposition of the inhabitants; they have poultry in great plenty, and enjoy those products of the earth which require little culture

And a few years later, in 1777, Captain James Cook praised the island’s agricultural products (Haun 2008: 246):

“the produce is Potatoes, Yams, Taro or the Eddy Root, Plantains and Sugar Cane, all excellent in its kind, the Potatoes are the best of the sort I ever tasted.”

Indeed, though this is not in Haun’s book, recent research by Mara Mulrooney of Honolulu’s Bishop Museum points to the continued cultivation of fields throughout the island’s history, both before and after European contact.

As for Easter Island’s inhabitants, far from being “small, lean, timid and miserable”, both Roggeveen and the Spaniards were impressed by their tall, well-proportioned bodies. However, George Foster, the guy who travelled on Cook’s ship, does say that the islanders he met were “inferior in stature” to other Pacific Islanders, with “lean” bodies, and “faces thinner that that of any people we had hitherto seen in the South Sea” (Haun 2008: 247). But there is a simple explanation for this: contact with the Spaniards seven years before may have led to the appearance of new diseases on the island, which Easter Islanders did not have the right immune systems for. Indeed, there is evidence that Easter Islanders still had difficulty fighting off European-introduced respiratory diseases even in the fifties and sixties.

None of the sources mention warfare or cannibalism. McLaughlin, in a 2005 paper I wasn’t able to find but which Haun summarises, points to a few instances of human remains found on the island that could indicate cannibalistic practices, mostly because they bear the sort of cut marks that one usually finds on animal remains that were processed for cooking. But these remains are few and far between–hardly enough to prove that cannibalism was a widespread practice.

The question, at this point, is: Why? Why make up that Easter Islanders wrecked their environment, and wrecked their own lives in the process? It’s likely that some of it is mere confusion: the island is indeed fairly wrecked today, but that can easily be traced back to unwise nineteenth-century sheep-ranching practices (Haun 2008: 237-238). Could some of it also be some sort of weird political correctness, showing that it’s brown people as well as white people that are capable of destroying their own environment? Could some of it be a deliberate calculation that, despite the meagre evidence, if a story like Easter Island’s makes people worry more about the environment, then it’s worth divulging? Haun herself simply sees it as a combination of disregard for the island’s own history, and readiness to impose narratives on it that most suit Westerners at the time, both deriving from old imperialistic attitudes that the West has long felt towards “the Rest”.

Haun’s book is not just about the alleged Easter Island ecocide, but also about other ways in which Western explorers, painters, scholars and comic book writers have twisted and turned the island to make it reflect their own concerns and ideas. If you do manage to get your hands on it, I highly recommend it.

Comments and questions are, as always, very welcome.

Next week, maybe, I’ll write a sequel to this post, about historical wooden carvings from Rapa Nui that may, at first sight, appear to depict starving men.

My last two posts were about ancient Peruvian pottery made in the shape of people having sex. But ceramics like these are only a very small percentage of the sorts of ceramics most archaeologists deal with on a daily basis. The vast majority of pots archaeologists work with are made to look like, well, pots. And, what’s worse, they’re usually broken up in dozens of pieces. And yet, archaeologists often do crazy things for pottery, no matter how unimpressive it might be.

For example, I have recently spent between twenty and thirty hours sorting out through broken pieces of ancient West African ceramics, along with three other volunteers and our supervisor, for the Crossroads of Empires project. The pottery came from recently excavated sites, and the idea was to see whether we could put together, not necessarily whole pots, but at least pots fragments that were big enough for us to make a reasonable guess as to what they looked like when they were whole (which means that a lot of our effort was focussed on rims and decorated bits). Sort of like a really difficult jigsaw puzzle in which most pieces are missing, and those that you still have are very small and worn. Once you do find bits that fit, you just stick them together with superglue. This whole process is called “refitting”, and you can see some images of how it works on this post from the Crossroads of Empires blog.

Why do this? Quite simply, pottery lasts a very long time, more so than any other thing made and used by humans in ancient times (excluding stone tools), so, wherever archaeologists dig, they will almost certainly find some. This has led archaeologists to figure out loads of different ways they can extract information about past lives from crummy ceramic fragments. For example, an important part of the Crossroads of Empires project is figuring out which culture groups interacted with which other culture groups–so, if you can connect a particular pottery style with a particular culture group, and then you find the same style, or perhaps a similar one, at a site that is firmly associated with another culture group, then it’s likely the two groups were in contact with one another.

But the shapes, sizes and decorations of ceramics can also give us a sense of how people lived in the past, and what was important for them. An excellent example of this is Ashley’s (2010) study of ancient Ugandan pottery.

Ashley identifies three major sequences in the region’s pottery: Urewe, Transitional Urewe, and Entebbe.

Urewe ceramics are found throughout the region between 500 and 800 AD, and they are characterised by having dimpled bases. What they tell us is that, as long as they were around, people’s lives revolved mainly around their family unit, and notions of family were of central cultural value. How can we be so sure? The amount of time and effort invested in making these pots, evident in their quality, suggests that whichever context they were used for was probably a very important one. And that context was probably family meals: this we can tell from how common the pots are, but also their size. Specifically, average sizes of Urewe pottery fall well within standard measurements of domestic pottery around the world, based on an extensive cross-cultural survey carried out by Henrickson and McDonald (1983).


Urewe pot (Ashley 2010: 143).


Refitted Urewe pot (Ashley 2010: 144)

Things start changing between 800 and 1200 AD. At this time, Urewe pots are generally replaced with Transitional Urewe pots. This new type of ceramics may seem, at first, to be quite similar to their predecessors, but a closer inspection reveals that the variety in vessel forms is significantly reduced, and decorations and embellishments are much simpler. This suggests that the family is losing importance within local cultural frameworks… but in favour of what?

Transitional Urewe

Fragments of Transitional Urewe ceramics (Ashley 2010: 151). Which, I realise, compared to the previous two illustrations of Urewe pots, makes them look like they are more varied in terms of decoration, not less. Oh well. This is what I could find.

The answer may lie with Entebbe ceramics, which appear only slightly later than the first Transitional Urewe pots–that is, around 1000 AD–and stick around until about 1500 AD. Entebbe ceramics, like the original Urewe pots, are high-quality objects, which again suggests the importance of whatever context they were used for. And, in their case, this context was probably large-scale public events. This is suggested, mainly, by their huge size, and, when full, their considerable weight, which would have made them cumbersome in a humble family kitchen. Large vessels like these could have been used for long-term storage of resources (for example, to ensure one’s family against ecological instability), but it seems that the mouth of most Transitional Urewe pots is too wide for this function, as it would have made them difficult to seal (which you want to do to prevent spillage, evaporation, or invasion by rodents and other household pests).

Based on the modern-day Eastern African customs, it seems most likely that, if Entebbe pots were indeed used in large public events, their main function would have been brewing of beer. Unfortunately, the archaeological sciences are not yet able to test this possibility (give it time, I say), but Ashley (p. 155) does point out that the internal grooves characteristic of so many Entebbe pots may well have been designed to “retain residues from previous brews to act as fermentation agents, or alternatively, as an abrasive to help mash the ingredients together”.


Entebbe pot (Ashley 2010: 155).

In short, from unspectacular (if, often, finely made) everyday items, Ashley is able to produce a simple but persuasive narrative of social change through time, from small-scale societies where one’s life revolves around one’s family unit, to medium/large-scale societies in which significant effort is invested in public events intended to create bonds between different family units within a community.

I think this is pretty cool. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s pretty cool.


Ashley, C. 2010. Towards a socialised archaeology of ceramics in East Africa. African Archaeology Review 27: 135-163.

Henrickson, E. and M. McDonald. 1983. Ceramic forms and function: an ethnographic search and an archaeological application. American Anthropologist 85(3): 630-643.

In my previous post about Moche sex pots, I summarised who the Moche were, what their sex pots depicted, and some of the early theories about their use and meaning. I concluded with Gero’s (2004) idea that Moche sex pots were metaphors for changing power dynamics within ancient Peruvian society, with dominant men as stand-ins for the rulers, and subordinate women as stand-ins for the “people”.

But Gero’s was not the only the only theory on Moche sex pots that was published in 2004: that year, Mary Weismantel’s “Moche Sex Pots: Reproduction and Temporality in Ancient South America” also came out.

It’s worth repeating that, in Moche sex pottery, vaginal penetration is very rarely represented. Instead, depictions anal sex, fellatio, and the masturbation of skeletons/skeletonised individuals are much more frequent. Often, this is interpreted as suggesting that Moche sex pottery was not concerned with reproduction–for example, Larco Hoyle (1965) suggested that these pots were meant to illustrate birth control methods, while Gero suggested that they were meant to emphasise male pleasure.

Anal sex among the Moche (Gero 2004: 13): a birth control strategy? A metaphor for power dynamics? Or something else altogether?

Anal sex among the Moche (Gero 2004: 13): a birth control strategy? A metaphor for power dynamics? Or something else altogether?

However, Weismantel points out that, for a lot of cultures, in different parts of the world and at different moments in history, vaginal penetration was not thought of as having anything to do with reproduction. For example, when interviewed by Polish anthropologist Malinowski in the 1920s, the inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands, off the coast of New Guinea, claimed that sex between men and women did not lead to babies: rather, when women bathed, they were somehow impregnated by their ancestors. For the Trobrianders, then, depictions of anal or oral sex would have nothing to do with reproduction, but neither would depictions of vaginal sex.

But there are also cultures in which anal or oral sex are absolutely crucial for reproduction. Among the Sambia of Melanesia, at least until the 1980s, it was thought that “[t]he human capacity to reproduce [was] contained in a scarce, precious, and immortal fluid–visible as semen in men and breast milk in women–that must be physically transmitted from one generation to another” (Weismantel 2004: 497). Therefore, for the human race to continue, Sambia boys had to fellate older men, so that they could then pass the reproductive fluids they so acquired to their future wives. And the neighbouring Kaluli had similar notions about anal sex. For the Sambia and the Kaluli, then, scenes of anal or oral sex, either between men or between men and women, would depict important reproductive activity, despite the fact that they would not lead, biologically speaking, to the meeting of sperm and egg.

Pots depicting anal sex, on display at Lima's Museo Larco. Photo mine.

Pots depicting anal sex, on display at Lima’s Museo Larco. Photo mine.

But, of course, 1980s Melanesia is a long way away from ancient Peru. Contemporary Amazonian peoples like the Tukanoa, the Barsana and the Wari’ are a bit closer, and though they don’t seem to consider anal or oral sex to be as important as the Sambia and the Kaluli do, they do have similar ideas about the importance of the transferral of vital fluids. Specifically, these cultures believe in “seminal nurture”–that is, it is not the single moment when sperm meets egg that is important for reproduction, but repeated intercourse, as it is through regular infusions of semen from men, and the mother’s own substances, that the foetus is gradually formed.

In sum: if we consider that many cultures don’t consider vaginal intercourse to be important for reproduction, and if some cultures consider that reproduction is all about the transferral of bodily fluids, regardless of the orifice through which they pass, then it makes sense to think that maybe Moche sex pots actually depict acts of reproduction.

Indeed, Weismantel writes that there are pots in which women are shown breast-feeding infants as they are penetrated–suggesting that a link is being made between the vital fluids that the man passes on to the woman, and those that the woman passes on to the infant. Perhaps they were considered to be the same fluids, just as for the Sambia.

And pots depicting women masturbating skeletons may well be showing that the vital fluids that women need to further human existence ultimately came from their long-dead ancestors.

A woman masturbating a skeleton, on display at Lima's Museo Larco.

A woman masturbating a skeleton, on display at Lima’s Museo Larco. Though I used this photo for the previous post as well, it’s not because it’s the only pot that depicts a similar scene: quite simply, I don’t own the copyright of any other photo of this kind of pottery.

If we consider that only the ruling classes could probably afford to commission such high-quality ceramics, it is possible, then, that Moche sex pots reflected their concern with furthering lineages, producing heirs, ensuring that their family remained powerful, and remained connected to the ancestors’ power, through the generations. Personally, I think that, in light of this idea, it’s particularly interesting that these pots probably accompanied the elite dead to their graves (we don’t know for sure because many were looted rather than properly excavated)–maybe they were meant to indicate that, despite the death of single individuals within a lineage, their descendants lived on, and would produce other descendants, and so on.

I think this is a very cool theory. It’s not without its flaws: for example, pots in which breast-feeding and anal sex co-occur are exceedingly rare, although I think the idea that anal/oral sex could be reproductive for the Moche is still pretty solid without them. Also, as Weismantel herself points out, the words “Moche sex pots” cover such a huge variety of objects that many do not fit very easily with her theory–for example, pots depicting possible venereal diseases, or copulation scenes between animals, or other stuff that looks pretty weird to a modern-day Western viewer like me (below). But this actually draws attention to the fact that just one theory probably would not explain the whole corpus of Moche sex pots: most likely, the Moche themselves thought of sex pots as divided into different categories, each with its own attached meanings and values.

Double penis pot, on display at Lima's Museo Larco. Photo mine.

Double penis pot, on display at Lima’s Museo Larco. Photo mine.

Will I write a Part Three? Perhaps–Steve Bourget has also written some interesting stuff on this topic, and their connection with funerary and sacrificial rituals. But, for now, I will stop here. Next week, I will probably write something about pots that have nothing at all to do with sex, but which archaeologists have to deal with more frequently.

You can download Weismantel’s article here. And, as always, questions, comments and corrections, persnickety or otherwise, are always welcome!

Additional references

Gero, J. 2004. Sex Pots of Ancient Peru: Post-Gender Reflections. In T. Oestigaard, N. Anfinset and T. Saetersdal (eds) Combining the Past and the Present: Archaeological Perspectives on Society pp. 3-22. Oxford: BAR International Series 1210.

Larco Hoyle, R. 1965. Checcan. Geneva: Nagel.


The story of making a novel about Hild of Whitby

the many-headed monster

the history of 'the unruly sort of clowns' and other early modern peculiarities

Declutter My Clutter

Live better with less

Feminism in Cold Storage

A library is thought in cold storage. -Herbert Samuel

Not Chai-Tea



Just a redheaded woman who is obsessed with books

the Little Red Reviewer

Book Reviews: Scifi, Fantasy, and the stuff in between

Live, Laugh, Love With Gladz

All Things Beauty, Books And Anything In Between


A place where books and imaginations spring into life

The Critiquing Chemist

Literary Analysis derived from an Analytical Chemist

The Untranslated

A blog about literature not yet available in English

Book Snob


Strange Bookfellows

new post every Monday and Thursday