Honoring the Ancestors

Digs & Discoveries March/April 2019

(Courtesy Erlin Novita/Papua Archaeological Center)

On the island of New Guinea, archaeologists have discovered several ornately decorated stone statues at a cemetery that may be more than 3,000 years old. Erlin Novita of the Papua Archaeological Center led a team that found the statues at Mount Srobu on the island’s north coast, in Indonesia’s Papua province. Here burials were hewn into limestone bedrock and covered with shell mounds by people of the megalithic cultures who likely made the statues. Most megalithic human depictions are simple, but the three-foot-tall statues unearthed by Novita’s team are complex. The bodies are posed in a crouching position, similar to statues known from Polynesia. Novita believes the statues represented important ancestors and were objects of worship. She notes that they are visually similar to the smoked mummies of Papuan chiefs that are traditionally preserved in a crouched position and that continue to be venerated in some parts of New Guinea to this day.

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