The Ambum Stone
Artist unknown, Papua New Guinea 'The Ambum stone' [Pre-historic zoomorphic figure; possibly representing the embryo of a long-beaked echidna] c.1500 BCE greywacke stone Collection of the national gallery of Australia more detail
This exquisite sculpture, discovered in a cave during the early 1960s, is one of the earliest known Pacific works of art, was made more than 3500 years ago. It was found with some one hundred other stone objects of which this is the most intricately carved.
Ancient stone mortars and pestles from Papua New Guinea are often fashioned into the forms of birds, humans and animals whereas the Ambum stone has a higher level of figurative qualities than other pestles and may be in a unique class of its own.
With various zoomorphic features, it may depict the embryo of a long–beaked echidna (spiny anteater). The significance and function of such stone images remain obscure although they are often considered sacred and credited with supernatural powers by present day people of the region where they are used as spirit stones in sorcery and other rituals. Its antiquity places the Ambum stone as contemporaneous with the National Gallery’s stone Goulandris idol from Greece.