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

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Thomas, N 
Cadwallader, Lauren  ORCID logo
Nuku, M 
Salmond, A 

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.

Polynesia, wooden sculpture, James Cook voyages, isotope analysis, dating
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Cambridge University Press
Economic and Social Research Council (ES/G045968/1)
European Research Council (324146)
The research reported upon here has taken place in the context of two projects, 'Artefacts of Encounter', funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council over 2010-13, and 'Pacific Presences', funded by the European Research Council over 2013-18. We are grateful to both agencies for their support. We also thank: Julie Adams (British Museum); Peter Brunt (Victoria University); Caroline Cartwright (British Museum); Steven Hooper (University of East Anglia); JeanYves Meyer (Ministère des Ressources Marines, des Mines et de la Recherche, Polynésie Française); Mark Nesbitt (Economic Botany Collection, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew); Tamsin O’Connell (Dorothy Garrod Laboratory for Isotopic Analysis, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research); Jessica Royles (Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge); Matthew Spriggs (Australian National University); and the University of Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit.