Stone axes as grave markers on Kiwai Island, Fly River delta, Papua New Guinea

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Measuring up to 54 cm in length and 8.29 kg in weight, stone axes recovered from ethnographic and archaeological contexts on Kiwai Island at the mouth of the Fly River of southwest Papua New Guinea are amongst the largest stone axes in the word. Detailed investigation of ethnographic accounts and associated museum collections made by colonial administrators, missionaries, and anthropologists from the 1890s-1910s reveals that these huge axes had a singular ceremonial function, mostly as grave markers. Initial petrographic assessment of Kiwai axes supports ethnographic recordings that owing to the stoneless character of the Trans-Fly region, all Kiwai axes must be imports, probably from Torres Strait. Information gleaned from ethnographic museum collections in Australia and England provide the basis for framing future archaeological research questions on Kiwai axes, such as determining the antiquity of axe manufacture and use, the range of contexts of use and deposition, and ceremonial axe biographies in terms of initial use as tools.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-83
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Pacific Archaeology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • ceremonial stone axes
  • grave markers
  • museum collections
  • Kiwai Island
  • Papua New Guinea

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