Papua New Guinea statue makes $4.7m at Sotheby's

An Uli ancestor statue from Papua New Guinea has sold for $4.7m.

The lot, which originates from the island of New Ireland, headlined an auction of African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art at Sotheby's New York on May 7.

Uli ancestor figure
The Uli ancestor figure was used in mourning rituals for deceased leaders

Only 255 Uli statues are recorded and this is one of the largest known. It also appears to have been carved using hand tools and has been dated to around 1650-1800.

This makes it one of the oldest known, as the vast majority were made post-1900.

Sotheby's comments: "Within the corpus of New Ireland Uli figures, the present statue ranks at the top, with only two comparable examples in terms of size, age and sculptural quality: one is today in the Louvre in Paris, and the other remains in the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin.

"This sculpture offers us a glimpse into the spiritual life of a primordial, autochthonous island culture, as it existed before the cataclysmic influence of Western contact."

A Veracruz greenstone yoke, dating from AD 550-950 and used in the "Mesoamerican ballgame", made $262,000.

The game, also known as ollamaliztli, required players to use only their hips to propel a ball up a ramp and through a hoop.

It was of great ritual significance to the peoples of Latin America. Yokes such as the one offered in the sale were likely worn on entry to the arena and removed before play.

The stakes were high, as losing teams were often sacrificed.

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