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The provenance, date and significance of a Cook-voyage Polynesian sculpture

  • Nicholas Thomas (a1), Trisha Biers (a2), Lauren Cadwallader (a3), Maia Nuku (a4) and Amiria Salmond (a5)...

A unique wooden sculpture collected by James Cook during his first voyage to the Pacific is widely considered to be a masterpiece of Oceanic art, but its exact provenance has been unclear. New analysis of shavings from the object now indicate that a) the tree from which it was carved was felled between 1690 and 1728, and that the carving was therefore up to 80 years old when obtained, and b) it originated in Tahiti, despite its stylistic affinities with art from the Austral Islands. Motifs and forms clearly travelled within regions, and populations interacted in ways that blur presumed tribal boundaries. It is perhaps time to reconsider the association between region and style upon which the cataloguing and identification of objects routinely depends.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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