Wave pattern


Our first virtual 'object in focus' features this Nelcau, an ancestral relic and ceremonial vessel from Aneityum Island, Vanuatu, in the Pacific Ocean. It was collected between 1845 and 1859 by the Rev Dr George Turner, who served as a missionary in the South Pacific and presented his collection to The Hunterian in 1860.

A wooden boat shaped vessel

Nelcau - view 1

Reconstructing how human beings settled the Pacific Islands has been one of the greatest problems (and successes) of world archaeology. During the 19th century, however, British missionaries working in the Pacific, such as the Rev Dr George Turner of the London Missionary Society, tried to find ways to reconcile the oral histories of Pacific Islanders with biblical scripture.


A wooden boat shaped vessel

Nelcau - view 2

The Book of Genesis states that everyone on earth is descended from one of the three sons of Noah, who repopulated the world after the biblical flood. However, no mention is made of the Pacific Islands. This canoe-shaped bowl, the abandoned relic of two ancestral gods, seemed to provide Turner with the crucial evidence of forgotten scriptural knowledge that he was seeking.


A wooden boat shaped vessel

Nelcau - view 3

On Aneityum, the word 'nelcau' means both a canoe and a god image. This boat-shaped bowl is a nelcau of two ancestral gods: Aicharia and Nefatimitepeke, two heroic primordial fishermen who saved Aneityum by fishing the island back up during a flood. By mixing the ceremonial drink kava in this bowl, they could be summoned. For Turner, however, their legend captured a fragmentary memory of the story of Noah’s Ark.

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