Helmet of porcupine fish-skin. [El.B 22/3/2007]

Place details: OCEANIA MICRONESIA. Kiribati / Gilbert Islands. Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Fish Skin / ?. Processes: ?. Dimensions: Max H = 330 mm Maker: Unknown Field Collector: Unknown When Collected: By 1878 April 29 Other Owners: 29 April 1878, purchased by Augustus Henry Lane Fox (later Pitt-Rivers) at a sale at Devitt and Hett (see 'Research Notes'). This object was listed in the Delivery Catalogue as having been transferred from South Kensington Museum in 1884. It was delivered to Bethnal Green Museum in April 1878 [receipt dated 28 May 1878]. It was probably displayed at Bethnal Green and/ or South Kensington Museum between 1878 - 1884. PRM Source: Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers founding collection Acquired: Donated 1884

KEYWORD: Armour / Helmet / CLASS: Armour Weapon / Clothing Headgear / ?.

Publications history, trails & websites: This object features in the Museum's audio guide produced during the DCF-funded 'Cutting Edge’ project, 2007-2009. [HH 20/06/2010]

Image PRM000009815 reproduced in colour at http://www.unpopularscience.co.uk/shark-teeth-weapons/, where it illustrates the article 'Shark Teeth Weapons', by Kim Biddulph, in the website Unpopular Science (Home of Science Stories that Never Quite Made the Front Pages), 10 April 2013. [JC 11 4 2013]

Image PRM000009815 reproduced in colour in Biostory [Tokyo] in 2013. (Printout of relevant page in RDF.) [JC 28 6 2013]

Research notes: The following notes are drawn from research compiled by Andy Mills as part of the DCF Cutting Edge project in 2006-2007. The most highly developed armour in the Oceanic region came from the small Micronesian archipelago of Kiribati (pron. Kiribass). Kiribati is comprised of low-lying coral atolls, and so very few raw materials are available. Consequently, this armour is made from woven coconut fibre and fish skin.

The helmet is made from an entire Porcupinefish (genus Diodontidae – aka Blowfish or Globefish). When alive, the spines of this fish are poisonous, but I can find no evidence that this was considered an advantage in battle, or if we should be cautious in our handling of it in future. We are fortunate to have an example of the two main types of I-Kiribati helmets here – fish-skin and woven coconut fibre. [SM 07/05/2008]

The sale at which this was purchased was announced in The Times, no. 29,238 (Thursday 25 April 1878), p. 16, col. a: 'To Collectors and Keepers of Museums. FOR SALE by Public AUCTION, at the London Commercial Sale Rooms, Mincing-lane, on Monday, 29th April, 1878, a collection of WARLIKE IMPLEMENTS, comprising spears, bows and arrows, clubs, &c.; also dresses, charms, idols, &c. from the Fiji and Solomon Islands. Catalogues and all particulars of DEVITT and HETT, Brokers, 16, Mark-lane.' [JC 6 11 2014]

For a similar object in the British Museum collections (museum number Oc1887,0201.54), see Newell, Jenny, Pacific Art in Detail, London: BMP (2011), p. 114-115 [HA 03/07/2015]