Friday mystery object #175 answer


On Friday I gave you this anthropological mystery object to identify:

I asked you what the teeth might have belonged to and where in the world might this necklace be from.

It’s always a bit tricky to identify worked material as it will often be different from what you’d see or expect in the wild state and you lose the context of the rest of the specimen. Nonetheless, these teeth are quite distinctive to a particular group of animals.

Barbara Powell, 23thorns and Robin got the right general area with suggestions of Islands in the South Pacific, in particular New Guinea. 23thorns also nailed the animal group with his suggestion of Black Flying Fox Pteropus alecto Temminck, 1837.

I’m not sure we can be confident about identifying the species of Pteropus without knowing exactly where these necklaces were collected (or without testing the DNA in the teeth), since there are a huge number of Flying Fox species in the South Pacific, but the size, shape and characteristic grooves in the teeth are spot on for them belonging to a Fruitbat of some kind.

Skull of a Flying Fox (Pteropus sp.)

Grooved canine teeth of a Flying Fox (Pteropus sp.)

The concept of ‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’ may seem relatively recent in our wasteful modern society, but in most other cultures (both spatial and temporal) it’s the norm and wasteful extravagance is a status indicator reserved for the very wealthy or powerful.

In places like New Guinea large Fruitbats can be an important source of dietary protein and they are regularly hunted and eaten by some of the local people. The teeth are a handy by-product of this process and they are used to make necklaces and other decoration. It’s nice to know that the bats that died to make these necklaces weren’t killed just for the sake of vanity – unlike the animals used in the ivory and fur trades.

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