The Ambum Stone is a reminder of how vulnerable Enga’s traditional knowledge and cultural practices are in the face of rapid changes from an ever-encroaching modern world, and the dangers of the cultural heritage of Engan children being stripped away from them before our very eyes.
There are several other recorded artifacts like the Ambum Stone: ancient stone mortars and pestles excavated from Papua New Guinea, but the Ambum Stone is prized above all others, not only for its age—it is one of the oldest of all sculptures made in Oceania—but also for its highly detailed sculptural qualities and its representation of an intriguing unknown creature.
The stone has been masterfully and painstakingly carved from Greywacke, an extremely hard sedimentary stone that would have taken many months to shape with the primitive stone tools of the time.
The Ambum Stone only came to Western attention in the 1960’s. Before then it was regarded as a religious object for the Engan people who believed it held supernatural powers from their ancestors which would be invoked through rituals such as pig killings to protect the tribe from danger or bring fertility and prosperity.
The stone was first sold to a foreign trade-store owner in Wabag town by two local boys and ended up in Great Britain where it was bought by a London Art dealer.
There is much contention around the manner in which the stone was taken out of Papua New Guinea. Engan cultural custodians claim its removal was illegal. The Ambum Stone was eventually bought by the National Gallery of Australia in 1977, where it remains today.
“The secret of the appeal of the Ambum stone is in its beauty and skill of its creator to reveal a form within such hard stone, thousands of years ago. A remarkable and fabulous work of art, created by humans that holds something deep from the past.”
National Gallery of Australia: https://nga.gov.au/AmbumStone/