Bone spear, Dinka?

Bone spear, Dinka?

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
?Dinka [?Nuer ?Anuak]
Date Made:
By 1925
Animal Bone , Wood Plant , Animal Hide Skin , Plant Fibre
Carved , Polished , Covered , Bound , Stained , Polished
Total L = 1915; spearhead visible L = 385, diam = 19 x 17.8; sheath L = 181, max diam = 26.5; shaft upper diam = 21 x 21.5 mm [RTS 8/8/2005].
435.3 g
Other Owners:
Purchased at Stevens Auction Rooms sale 15 September 1925 [lot 310]
PRM Source:
Stevens Auction Rooms
Purchased September 1925
Collected Date:
By 1925
Spear consisting of a spearhead carved from a light cream coloured giraffe's leg bone (Pantone 7401C) with pointed tip, and a narrow oval sectioned body that tapers out towards its base, where it is probably hafted into the hollowed out top of the shaft. The junction between the two parts is obscured by a cylindrical sheath of yellow hide (Pantone 7508C) that has been cut from a length of seamless animal tail and shrunken in place over the wood. A tear in the side of this exposes a section of plant fibre binding around the top of the shaft that helps secure the base of the spearhead. The shaft has been carved from a narrow branch with the bark removed, and has a slightly knotted body that tapers to its base; the surface has been stained an orangey brown colour (Pantone 730C). The spear is complete, but the bone has a number of cracks visible along the length. It has a weight of 435.3 grams and is 1915 mm long; the spearhead has a length of 385 mm, to the top of the sheath, and a maximum diameter of 19 by 17.8 mm; the sheath is 181 mm long and 26.5 mm in diameter, while the shaft has an upper diameter of 21 by 21.5 mm.

This spear was purchased at Stevens Auction Rooms during their sale of 15th September 1925, as lot 310. The collector is unknown, but the object was said to be from the Upper Nile, and possibly of Dinka origin. Although the term 'Upper Nile' is now used to refer to a modern administrative district, covering a stretch of the Bahr el Abiad from Geigar to Malakal, and the Sobat River to Nasir, at the time this object was collected the term was used differently. In this instance, it was probably being used either to describe an older administrative district (covering what later became Jonglei and Sobat), or possibly even more generally to describe the Bahr el Abiad and/or Bahr el Jebel rivers or the areas around them.

For other spears in the collection tipped with giraffe bone points, see 1936.10.4-5 (Anuak, collected by Evans-Pritchard) and 1919.13.19-20 (Possibly Dinka, also purchased at the Stevens Auction Rooms). Evans-Pritchard also states that the Nuer occasionally made use of giraffe bone for spears: 'Till recently they possessed very few iron spears, cherished as heirlooms, but used instead the straightened horns of antelope and buck, ebony wood, and the rib-bones of giraffe, all of which are still used to-day, though almost entirely in dances ...’ (E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940,
The Nuer, p. 86). The suggested Dinka attribute is therefore only tentative, as the object could quite easily be either Nuer or Anuak.

Rachael Sparks 8/8/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [BIV, p. 44] 1925 [insert] 67 [end insert] STEVENS'S AUCTION ROOMS Sept. 15 - (lot 310) [insert] 2 [end insert] - Spear with plain point made from leg-bone of giraffe, UPPER NILE (?Dinka). P[ai]d by cheque 24 Sept., 1925 £ 2-1-6 .

Card Catalogue Entry - There is no further information on the catalogue card [RTS 5/4/2004].

Pitt Rivers Museum label - AFRICA, Sudan. Dinka tribe? Spear with giraffe bone point. Purch. Stevens auction. 1925.67.2 [plastic coated label, tied to object; RTS 8/8/2005].

Written on object - Spear pointed with giraffe's leg-bone. UPPER NILE, (?DINKA). PUR. 15.9.1925 (Stevens) [RTS 25/7/2005].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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