Initiation Mask

This mask comes from the Yaka people, who live in southwestern Congo in central Africa.  Initiation and circumcision are mandatory rituals for all Yaka young men, and are organized in remote locations by the secret societies ngoni and yiwilla.  After receiving education in adult responsibilities and sexual behavior, the initiates return to their villages for festivities.  This type of mask, which resembles a bird, is used in such celebrations.  The masks are carved by the initiates and their teachers specifically for that event and are used only once.  This mask is currently on display in Professor Deacon’s Cultural Cabinet.


Bontoc Axe

This early-20th century axe comes from the Bontoc people of the Philippines.  The Bontoc live in the highlands of Luzon, the largest and most populous Philippine island.  In the past, the Bontoc practiced headhunting, beheading their enemies during warfare and claiming the severed heads as trophies.  Typically, a warrior would attempt to spear his opponent to deliver a mortal blow, but before he died, would decapitate the wounded man using an axe like this one.  The trophy head was then brought back to the village where it was smoked, washed, and ritually activated to bring good fortune to the village.  Sometimes, the lower jaw was removed to be used as a handle for ceremonial gongs.  This axe is currently on exhibit in the student-curated mini-exhibit Warfare and Violent Conflict, in which you can learn more about traditions linked to headhunting.


MOA Introduces New Summer Programming

The Museum of Anthropology staff is pleased to announce a new types of programming centered on global cultures this summer.  In place of summer camp, the Museum will offer four Pre-K programs and four teen programs on Mondays and two all-ages workshops on Sundays in June and July, each exploring a different topic.   The staff is excited about the opportunity to provide more diverse programming and reach broader audiences.  Complete details on the Museum’s summer schedule of programs can be found here or on our events calendar.

Inca Ceramic Container

This type of Inca ceramic vessel from the Peruvian Andes is known by a variety of names.  Often referred to as aryballos (or aribalos in Spanish) because of their similarity to jars of the same name used in ancient Greece, they are also known as Cuzco bottles or urpus in the indigenous Quechua.  Dating from the 15th to early 16th century, these containers were used to store and transport chicha, a fermented corn beer, as well as water and other foods.  To transport the vessels, ropes were pulled through the handles and wrapped around the central lug, which is marked with a stylized animal face, allowing the container to be easily carried on one’s back.  The two rings under the lip of the jar originally held a cover in place, while its pointed base allowed it to stand upright when set into the earth.  Incan aryballos are almost always decorated with polychromatic geometric designs like this one.  You can currently view this container in Professor Deacon’s Cultural Cabinet.

Japanese Belt Ornament


Popular in 17th and 18th century Japan, belt ornaments such as this one are known as netsuke.  Used to fasten belongings to a belt, the elaborately carved ornaments also served as symbols of the wearer’s class, wealth, and taste.  This example, which is slightly more than an inch tall, is made of ivory and represents a pair of guardian figures known in Japan as shishi, which are represented as having the features of a dog and a lion.  Shishi are used to ward away malevolent spirits outside of Buddhist and Shinto shrines.  A wide range of netsuke are currently on exhibit in Playing with Spirits: Pokémon and Shintoism.

Artists Find Inspiration in MOA Collections

The Museum of Anthropology’s collections of nearly 30,000 objects provide an outstanding resource for people, both in the Wake Forest community and the general public, interested in investigating any number of cultures through ethnographic and archaeological artifacts. Research in the collections has been increasing recently with a 2016 anthropology honors thesis about one of our Yu’pik belts and a number of recent exhibits featuring Wake Forest student research on individual objects. The MOA collections, however, can also serve as inspiration for artists in their own work and in the revival of traditional crafts.

A WFU Art student poses with her drawings and the mask that inspired them.

A WFU Art student poses with her drawings and the mask that inspired them.

One such project came from a collaboration with Leigh Ann Hallberg, a faculty member in the Wake Forest University Department of Art. This past fall, students in Hallberg’s Intermediate and Advanced Drawing classes used objects from the Museum’s collections as inspiration for their works of art. The students selected objects including a Japanese kimono, a Tibetan horse bridle, an African rat trap, and a mask from Papua New Guinea as models for their charcoal drawings. The art was later displayed at Wake Forest’s START Gallery in Reynolda Village, showcasing this special partnership.

The MOA staff has also worked with metalsmith William Rogers, who specializes in reproducing historic hammered copper.  As part of an effort to revive metalworking among members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Rogers collaborated with the Cherokee Historical Society on a project to add metalworking to the demonstration offerings of the Oconaluftee Indian Village, a living history museum. The site is a re-creation of a typical village in the 1750s, with members of the Eastern Band as interpreters demonstrating a variety of traditional activities and crafts.

TOP: A copper bell from the MOA collection. BOTTOM: A new Cherokee copper piece with similar bells.

TOP: A copper bell from the MOA collection.
BOTTOM: A new Cherokee copper piece with similar bells.

Rogers first focused on research to determine what types of metalwork were done by Cherokee people.  It was during this phase that he visited the Museum of Anthropology to examine NC Native American copper artifacts in our collection. Rogers also visited several other museums and together these prehistoric and historic copper pieces provided the inspiration for Cherokee designs that are being taught to the demonstrators, reproduced, and sold in the Village gift shop.  Thanks to the opportunity to study MOA’s artifacts, Rogers’ project ensured that the revival of this traditional Cherokee craft is authentic and produces interesting and beautiful pieces. Rogers will present a workshop teaching these methods of creating copper designs at the Museum of Anthropology on October 9, 2017.


The Museum is proud to be able to offer these opportunities to inspire artists and provide examples of authentic artifacts. At any given time only approximately one percent of the Museum’s entire collection is on exhibit. So, for those interested in exploring it in depth, the collection is showcased in the MOA’s comprehensive online database, providing an easily accessible introduction point. The Museum is also in the process of hiring a collections manager, which will make the collections even more accessible to researchers, artists, and any other interested parties.